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21 November 2014
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India is particularly egregious
Interview with Ingrid Newkirk, President of P.E.T.A.
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This interview with Ingrid Newkirk was conducted by Ashwin Mahesh, by email. If the answers, or the questions, raise additional thoughts in your mind, feel free to send them to us at editors@indiatogether.org and we'll pass them along to P.E.T.A.
How did PETA first learn about animal cruelty in India?

Ingrid Newkirk: I consider India my second home. I grew up and went to school in India, in Simla and then in Kodaikanal. My parents lived in Delhi. I rescued strays, stopped carts with overworked bullocks and so on, back then. Then, eighteen months ago, I read a letter about a man who refused to go out of his house on Wednesdays because that is the day of the week the cattle come stumbling past his house on their death march to the slaughterhouse. The story broke my heart and I decided to investigate.

Is PETA concerned that reforming existing practices, however cruel they are, may throw people out of work with no alternative?

Ingrid Newkirk: In the U.S., the same used to be said by people who thought abolishing human slavery would destroy the economy; the same is said in times of war that it brings prosperity to arms manufacturers and creates jobs as it takes lives. There is no ethical currency, the most important type of currency, in trying to justify a wrong because it may be where the money is. However, even this argument does not need to be made with cruelty to animals. When people do not eat meat, they do not stop eating, anymore than when they don't wear a fur coat, they stop wearing clothes. People eat and that means that if everyone eats a vegan diet there is employment in the fields, in crop cultivation, in food packaging, in food transport and canning and so on. If people do not wear the skins of battered animals, they will need cotton, jute, rubber, other fibers and fabrics that must also be processed and made into clothes and so on.

These alternatives, if developed sufficiently will no doubt serve human needs without the attendant cruelty to animals. But can the poor who are employed in these jobs afford the time it will take to reach there? How can the transition be made more acceptable to them, considering that they are likely to view such concern for animals as adding insult to their injurious poverty?

Ingrid Newkirk: Nothing stops overnight, no industry will close tomorrow, outright. There is fade out of one thing and emergence of its replacement. also, people do try to look after the poor in their community somehow, particularly if they are not particularly rich themselves. It is an amazing phenomenon to see people reaching out to each other. That will happen, it does happen in times of need. this isn't meant as a simplistic response, but you see it in india in front of your eyes every day. but, one cannot keep one misery alive in the hope of preventing another misery. If I have to go without a meal if I can't hurt you, that does not justify my hurting you.

Is PETA opposed to the consumption of meat?

Ingrid Newkirk: We are opposed to all cruelty, so as advocates of non-violence, opponents of oppression, people who abhor the cruelty inherent in slaughtering we say the only ethical way to consume flesh is to pick up the carcass of an animal who has died naturally or been killed accidentally, say by being hit by a car, and eat that. It is no more revolting, if you think about it, in fact less so, than taking a trusting animal of any kind and cutting their throats so that you can make a meal out of them that you will forget by tomorrow. That said, however, if people are too weak to resist eating rotting flesh, the least they can do is not cause their nasty and unhealthful habits to create misery for other gentler forms of life, the vegetarian animals they kill.

One might argue that some of your positions, such as opposition to the consumption of meat, are, for want of a better phrase, "extreme", in that they are unlikely to find sympathy with the average person. Even if these are ethical positions, could they be hindering the changes you are seeking? Are people who are likely to sympathize with your views at a casual level driven away by these extreme positions?

Ingrid Newkirk: We understand. Frankly, it seems pretty extreme to see a gentle animal enjoying life and to kill that dear soul and eat the rotting corpse when you stop and think about it, not that most of us do. I grew up eating animals three times a day basically. I don't think, upon serious reflection, most people, even dyed-in-the-wool meat eaters can say they think it extreme to eat a plant-based diet that our physiology shows we were meant to eat (Dr. Leakey, the world's foremost anthropologist confirms this, as do the structure of our intestines, teeth, and so on which are very different from those of a carnivore). After all, it is a meat-based diet that is linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes: the biggest killers in affluent societies because they take up eating meat. It can't be too extreme, considering whole cultures, including indian culture, have been based on it for centuries. But, we believe that even if people can't bring themselves to shake off that nasty carcass habit (!), most people oppose wanton cruelty and that is all we ask in the case of the Indian cattle. The suffering they endure is illegal. Not just immoral, but against the basic laws that set minimum standards for our behavior toward animals. It would also break the heart of anyone, meat eater or not, with any sensitivity.

Are business which process meat and animal products also involved in crafting them as leather goods? Is it possible that those who procure and convert the hides into finished goods have little say in the matter, and may be also affected by boycotts?

Ingrid Newkirk: The meat and leather industries in India seem to be pretty separate, it's true. If you believe the stories, there is virtually a meat mafia, another reason not to buy the stuff. However, the Council for Leather Exports has shown that they accept responsibility, as is right for them to do as a group that profits from the cattle trade, and they have started imposing criteria for humane treatment, working with others. We are hopeful, after a recent meeting with the meat industry in Delhi, that that industry will come on board. Everyone needs to get together and push for reforms. However, the individual consumer is the one who must take the most responsibility for they create the demand. They may be miles away from the slaughterhouse floor and never see or hear the horrors, but when they open their purse and pay the butcher or buy that pair of leather shoes, the animals' screams are because of them.

Is it true that Muslim nations' insistence on certain religious standards in slaughterhouses (specifically relating to whether the meat is considered halal if slaughtered in a particular way and not otherwise) is responsible for some of the cruelty?

Ingrid Newkirk: There is no reason now that animals cannot be slaughtered when stunned, Islamic religious scholars have concluded this, and thus animals can be made temporarily unaware of what is happening to them. Furthermore, Islamic law forbids ill treatment, the breaking of bones and so on before slaughter. It even acknowledges that fear induced into animals before the cut can make the flesh 'haram' (forbidden). The problem, as with any religion, is that many people say they believe in their religious dictats but don't follow them. We are appealing to muslims to speak out on this issue.

Are there instances of animal cruelty in transportation that PETA has successfully addressed in India? Are some state governments more cooperative than others?

Ingrid Newkirk: We have not successfully resolved any transport issues yet. Among the worst problems is Tamil Nadu's government,which allows the illegal transport of cows, bullocks, and other cattle out of its state all night long, every night of the week, and does nothing to impose any humane standards. The government of Kerala has at least submitted a list of humane standards it would like to start imposing on cattle shippers in its state. We are in a wait and see posture with Maharastra over whether the state will continue to allow overloaded lorries to cross its borders bringing cattle to Deonar slaughterhouse in Mumbai. As for the appalling transport by train, the Minister of Railways has refused to listen to any appeals, even from the Prime Minister!

Can PETA provide a list of specific changes that are being sought at this time in the way the industry functions?

Ingrid Newkirk: The chief problem is transport.
  • Lorries are illegally overloaded (they should carry no more than six cattle by law - many of these animals gouge each other with their horns, they can't help it when they are so overloaded), they must legally have a non-slip floor (made that way easily by putting down straw or even dirt), and their sides must be padded to avoid injuries. All these are ignored.

  • Worse, the drivers, especially on hilly potholed curving hill roads in places like Tamil Nadu, drive at breakneck speed to make the most possible deliveries and cattle are almost all down on top of each other, the young and old and weak suffocating, within five minutes of the lorry leaving. We want a commitment that shipments will be stopped by the police and border guards, that drivers will be removed, lorries and cattle will be confiscated. We also want the slaughterhouses to refuse entry to overloaded lorries and ones with injured, dehydrated, downed cattle on them.

  • The meat and leather and government people all need to agree to make their absolute resolve on this known and it will happen. The government has also pledged funds to the states to modernise some of its 80 year old slaughterhouses where children throw petrified cattle to the feces-and-blood-covered floors to have their throats hacked through in plain view of the waiting cattle.

    The government says it will back these measures. If they did and if all cooperated, the whole scenario would change.
Is India particularly egregious, or a convenient target? If leather goods production in India is scaled back, can you be certain that business will be rerouted to nations with better regard for animal health and rights?

Ingrid Newkirk: India is especially egregious and something had to be done quickly to gain the attention of the government and industry. The world thinks of India as a Gandhian country still where animals, particularly cattle, are respected. That is no longer true if you look at the cattle slaughter business. PETA opposes all animal exploitation, but we also campaign to make the suffering of animals less where there is an enormous and hideous problem. India has that today.

Thank you for your answers. We will make every effort to present PETA's views alognside those of any others who offer them in the public interest. Should our readers have further questions, we'll gather those and send them along.

Ingrid Newkirk: Thank you, thank you, thank you. What you are doing is helping keep a story alive until positive change is made. You are part of the solution.

India Together
July 2000


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