New Internationalist

Eating Endangered Animals

nn animal rightsThe No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights is one of the earliest No-Nonsense Guides and was released in October 2006. The forward, Table of Contents and Chapter 1 are available for The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights on our website. 

The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights

by Catharine Grant

In Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, a dystopia set in the near future, humans bring about cataclysmic environmental collapse and their own demise through extreme excess and alienation from nature. The novel provides many examples of this tendency: sex slavery, genetic modification of humans, state-sponsored blood sports, and the ultra-rich dining on endangered species. 

Atwood’s tale is cautionary because, of course, many of these things occur in today’s society; including the legal production of meat from endangered species. The problem of the illegal trade in endangered species – such as the consumption of bushmeat (typically primates) in war-torn countries, sushi restaurants serving whale meat, and the sale of endangered species parts in markets all over the world – have been highlighted in recent years. 

However, the legal production of meat from endangered species routinely occurs in North America. 

In February of this year, a US restaurant inspired ire by advertising that it would serve up African lion burgers as a special feature. The restaurant, Il Vinaio, faced protests outside its Mesa, Arizona location and angry phone calls and emails from the people who felt that serving an endangered species was unacceptable. Eventually, Il Vinaio gave in to pressure and canceled the new menu item.

However, as owner Cameron Selogie pointed out, the lion burger was entirely legal in the United States because the meat came from lions bred in captivity and sold for their meat and hides; in fact, the facility which processed the lion carcasses was regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species only applies to species at risk caught from the wild, and it is fully legal to kill and consume endangered species that have been bred in captivity if it does not threaten wild populations. As the owner of the facility where the lion meat was produced remarked: ‘Do you question where chickens come from when you go to Brown’s Chicken or Boston Market?’ A good point, and one which raises interesting questions about the different value that humans put on animal lives. 

In today’s world, not only are domesticated animals factory farmed but so too are wild fur-bearing animals that a generation or two ago were only caught in the wild. With endangered species now on our menus, one wonders if the next factory farms will be for exotic species meat, and whether in fact we are marching steadily towards Atwood’s flood.  While I don’t believe that any one species has more intrinsic value than another, I do believe that this episode does speak to our propensity for excess and alienation from nature. 

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