Every year the “Melbourne Cup” is celebrated by many Australians. It’s a tradition that many Australians – who normally do not gamble – make small bets on the possible Cup “winner”. Businesses stop work for the race, and many have “racing pools” for their employees. Many Australians celebrate at pubs around the country, they wear fancy hats and couture; it is generally viewed as a glamorous social event.
As a child, each November it was a family tradition that my parents would ask me to pick a horse so they could place a bet for me. Even my school would make us stop our work to watch the event on TV. Today as an abolitionist vegan, it’s an event that I do my best to ignore. It’s futile of course because this race and animal use is everywhere. This year I happened to be in a cafe the day of the Cup, forgetting what day it was, and had the misfortune of having to listen as it was blasted through the cafe. We moved and sat outside.
Australians would be surprised to know that according to known figures approximately 25,000 racehorses in Australia face slaughter for “pet” meat or for human consumption each year. (Jeff Dowsing Guardian, Oct 31). That’s approximately 68 racehorses murdered per day in Australia, every day of the year. The horse-meat industry is a by-product of the racing industry. There are two horse abattoirs in Australia (Peterborough in SA and Caboolture in QLD). Approximately 2,000 tonnes of horse meat is exported from Australia for human consumption in Japan and Europe annually (ABS figures).
Bar the Melbourne Cup, “racehorses” do not cross the minds of most Australians. A few weeks ago that changed for some Australians, as the biggest horse-racing industry event in Australia exposed the hypocrisy and abuse inherent in the horse-racing industry as it publicly claimed the life of yet another slave. The three race commentators who were broadcasting live from the Flemington mounting yard and their producers reached a consensus 45 minutes later on how best to reveal the fate of Verema and find the best term to sanitise the incident and not interfere with the festivities and reputation of the Melbourne cup.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Nov 5, 2013):
They decided not to use the word ‘‘shot’’ or ‘‘euthanised’’ on air partly in consideration that the news may cause distress to children watching the coverage. McAvaney announced that “Verema has tragically broken down”, words that had been chosen to convey to the adult audience she had been euthanised.
Melbourne Cup horses are the equivalent of quadruped gladiators. Bill Finley, a New York Daily News reporter writing in June 1993, went so far as to remark that such horses are genetic mistakes, running too fast on frames that are too large “on legs that are far too small.” They must perform. If they do not, their value diminishes. They are fed a controlled diet that emphasises high concentrate grains over extended grazing, a regime that tends to produce bleeding ulcers. The racing process itself can lead to internal bleeding, notably in the lungs and windpipe. Drugs may also feature, given to horses to cope with inflammation (the use of corticosteroids) or to cope with bleeding in the lungs (Lasix).
When it reaches a certain point, there is no necessary incentive to spoil them with soft comforts and spatial idylls. Injured horses are simply destroyed, or as the euphemism goes, “put down”. A study in 2005 conducted by the University of Sydney for the First International Equitation Science Symposium found that almost 40 percent of racehorses leave the industry annually due to illness, injury, and simply not making the taxing grade. Destroyed horses tend to end up at knackeries, where they are slaughtered for pet met, or end up at horse abattoirs.
One such conspicuous example took place after this year’s race. The five-year-old Aga Khan-owned mare Verema, a particularly majestic beast, was one such animal who was not going to go into a convalescing nursing stable with the full luxuries. Dr. Brian Stewart, Racing Victoria’s head of veterinary equine and welfare (much like a quack who presides over injured gladiatorial warriors) spoke with “regret” that “Verema had to be euthanised after suffering a fracture to a right foreleg during the running of the Emirates Melbourne Cup” (Herald Sun, Nov 5). Such an accident was “unfortunate” and knowing which side his bread was buttered on, Stewart insisted that such accidents were infrequent in the world of horse racing.
If I may share my own personal experience of moral compartmentalisation. Before I was vegan, I was vegetarian for much of my life, which meant I was still participating in great violence because I was still eating and wearing animal products and viewing animals as resources and property. My speciesist indoctrination was so deeply entrenched that for most of my life, I mostly accepted with little question our society’s speciesist position that other animals are our property. I mostly took it all for granted that this was the way it was supposed to be. Had I not been vegan the day of this year’s Cup, my speciesism and moral compartmentalisation would have continued. I would have been upset over the fate of this particular individual Verema as I sat down to eat my animal products (products of violence), while wearing the skin of a sentient being on my feet.
My unconscious life.
The last paragraph of Mr Kampmark’s article exposes our moral compartmentalisation.
As the Australian comedian, Victor Hansen, suggested via the ever available Twitter: this is a race that not so much stops the nation, but stops the nation from looking after animals. An apt summary for the racing industry and its ardent backers.
As an abolitionist vegan, the phrase “this race….stops a nation from looking after animals” is remarkable. Firstly there’s the false notion that nonhuman animals are “ours” to “look after”, that animals need “looking after”, and that as a society we “look after animals” (whatever that means). As a nation, and as society, we believe that nonhuman animals are our property, and that of course includes “racehorses” and nonhumans who live with us whom we view as “family members”. We have been indoctrinated to deny the moral personhood of nonhuman animals which enables us to use them as resources for food, clothing, entertainment or other reasons.
Dan Cudahy’s essay Property Status and Animal Welfare : Two Deep Roots of Cruelty:
American law recognizes two types of entities: persons and things. There is no middle category. During American slavery in the 19th century, a middle category was attempted, and slaves were considered “quasi-persons” or “ things-plus” or “3/5ths of a person”, but that category utterly failed to bring any significant “legal personhood” to slaves or any relief of the cruelty they endured as property of their owners. The law protects the rights of persons to do what they want with the things they own, and if there is ever a conflict between a person with property rights and the thing they own, property rights always win, regardless of any other law whatsoever “protecting” the thing. This was true without exception during American slavery, and it is true today in all of our relations with nonhuman beings.
…..This reverence for property rights is reflected in our courts and it is no surprise that the strongest slave welfare laws in the antebellum South did nothing to protect slaves, as chattel property, from unspeakable cruelty inflicted by their property owners. When the property rights meet welfare laws, it’s like a speeding freight train meeting a light warm breeze; the effect is negligible.
As long as it is the case that nonhumans are owned as things and their owners hold property rights over them (which is one and the same thing), welfare laws will never be able to protect against the flagrant and extreme cruelty which is routine in all of animal agriculture, much less protect equal inherent value or the basic right to physical security. The first fact that anyone genuinely concerned about animal cruelty must fully understand and accept is that welfare laws are and always will be impotent to prevent cruelty. The most welfare laws will do is to protect the interests of property owners in utilizing their property to its maximum economic potential. Welfare laws will always be disastrous for sentient nonhumans, doing no more than they have in the past: making humans feel better about the exploitation and cruelty inflicted on nonhumans.
We torture and murder more nonhuman animals in 5 days (mostly for food) than all humans killed in genocides, wars, plagues, murders in human history. That’s staggering violence. If we truly believe that it is wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals, then what we are doing is wrong, because 99.99% of our use of animals (food) is for unnecessary reasons since we can meet all our nutrition requirements from plants (and non-animal sources).
We like to tell ourselves — and this is reinforced by all large animal organisations — that there is such a thing as non-abusive animal exploitation, and that it is morally acceptable to use nonhumans as long as it is “humane”. All large animal organisations including an Australian animal organisation The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses repeatedly reinforce this position. All large animal organisations tend to call for the “humane” use of animals, but never ask the public to go vegan – to stop using animals for food, clothing, entertainment or other reasons. There are reasons for this which I won’t go into now, but suffice to say they are financial reasons, and for these organisations to ask the public to challenge their own behaviour would probably mean a reduction in their public donations. So it’s a business decision not to promote (ethical) veganism, and to not have veganism as their organisation’s moral baseline.
The truth is there’s no such thing as “humane” use of animals and there’s no such thing as “humane” murder, and even if there were, it would still be unjust. It is speciesism when we make moral distinctions between species and between forms of animal use. It’s speciesism to claim that using animals for “sports” is worse than using animals for food or other reasons. It’s speciesism to claim that some species are more morally important than other species. It’s speciesism that we believe that some nonhumans have no interest in continuing life, and that it’s only HOW they are used that is the issue, not THAT they are used.
We need to recognise our moral compartmentalisation, where we speak out against one form of animal use — horse-racing — but we ignore our own animal use. It’s moral compartmentalisation that we sit down each day to ingest violence three times a day. We wear violence, we visit zoos, circuses, and so forth. Even some animal advocates who claim to respect animals are not vegan or they promote regulation of animal exploitation instead of veganism — the abolition of animal exploitation. Until we open our eyes and start to be morally consistent and recognise that all nonhumans have equal moral value and deserve at least one basic right — the right not to be used as property (i.e., until most of society are vegan) — then terrible injustice and death will continue for “racehorses” and all other animals. Why would we expect anything else since in our society they are just economic commodities with no inherent value?
Speciesism is so powerful and pervasive. It’s in plain sight and yet it is invisible.
If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It’s easier than you think. It will be one of the best decisions you will make in your life. Here’s some good vegan resources
Update: November 5, 2014 : Melbourne Cup: death of racehorse Admire Rakti due to heart failure, cause still unknown