Thursday, December 27, 2012

Not Caring for Creation, a Covenantal Crisis

"In Britain, a 1998 report to the Government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee revealed that in twenty-five years habitat loss and agricultural biocides had drastically reduced the populations of several of the (formerly) most common birds - for example, tree sparrows, by 95 percent; grey partridges, by 86 percent; and turtle doves, by 69 percent. With 75 percent of marine fisheries either fished to capacity or overfished, perhaps 30 percent of fish species are threatened. Our record makes an eerily exact mockery of God's commandment to the living creatures on the fifth day; 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas - and the birds, let them multiply on the earth' (Gen. 1:22). Read in light of the current data, it would seem that the mockery begins already with the parallel commandment addressed to the humans on the sixth day: . . ."

"Suffering, disease, and wasteful death for so-called domesticated animals is also a large part of the cost of our eating habits and food production system. The abandonment of long-standing practices of animal husbandry in favor of 'concentrated animal feeding operations' (CAFOs) has led to the emergence of new epidemics such as BSE ('mad cow disease'), which is communicable to humans; moreover, old diseases have spread to an unprecedented extent. 'Plague' was the description applied to Europe's 2001 outbreak of food-and-mouth disease, a form of nonlethal animal flu that is preventable by vaccine and treatable by ordinary veterinary care. In this case, however, ten million animals were destroyed, millions of them not infected, because their market value had plummeted and trade policies demanded it. Colin Tudge observes the irony that hygiene laws designed to maintain food in a state of asepsis 'are superimposed on a system of food production and distribution that seems specifically intended to generate and spread infection, or at least could hardly do the job better if it had been.'

But infectious disease is only the tip of the iceberg of suffering that is built into industrial systems of animal confinement and slaughter. Eighty million of the 95 million hogs slaughtered each year in the United States are the product of CAFOs. The scale is gigantic: 60 percent of the hogs are processed 'from birth to bacon' by just four companies. They never feel soil or sunshine, and rarely the touch of a human hand. A 500-pound sow spends an adult lifetime - measured in terms of litters and terminated after the eighth, if she survives that long - in a metal crate seven feet long and twenty-two inches wide, covered with sores, her swollen legs planted in urine and excrement. On the kill-floor at Smithfield's Tar Heel plants, hogs are stunned, slashed, hoisted and scalded at the rate of 2,000 per hour. When the four-pronged stunner misses its mark, then the flailing animal may be dropped alive into the scalding tank. 'The electrocutors, stabbers, and carvers who work on the floor wear earplugs to muffle the screaming.' Indeed, animal suffering and human suffering is intertwined; the Tar Heel plant has a 100 percent annual turnover among its five thousand employees, most of them immigrants. The uncompromising stricture found in Leviticus on the slaughter of animals might serve as a commentary on our current practices: 'If anyone from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a sheep or a goat in the camp or who slaughters it outside the camp does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to offer to YHWH before the Tabernacle of YHWH, as blood it should be accounted to that man; he has shed blood. And that man shall be cut off from the midst of his people' (Lev. 17:3-4).

The cost of our eating is paid even in the distortion of agriculture itself, to service the meat and dairy industries. Beef cattle now consume half the world's wheat, most if its corn (a grain they do not naturally eat), and almost all of its soybeans. In turn, the agricultural industry is the largest consumer of water in North America. In addition, to these extractions from the earth, the meat industry is responsible for dangerous inputs, including massive direct pollution of soil, water, and air from intensive 'livestock units.' In California's Central Valley, 1,600 dairies produce more effluents than a city of 21 million people. In 1997, the Senate and Agriculture Committee reported that the total manure waste produced by U.S. animal industries was 1.3 billion tons: 130 times the amount of human waste processed in the nation. Workers inside the factories and also nearby residents suffer high rates of respiratory and sinus problems, as well as nausea and diarrhea.

How Israel eats is a covenantal concern. From the perspective of Leviticus, whether Israel eats at all is in the long term a function of covenant faithfulness practice among three parties: God, land, and people."

No comments: