Animals as Food


"Surely it is only because fish do not yelp or whimper that otherwise decent people can think it a pleasant way of spending an afternoon to sit by the water dangling a hook while previously caught fish die slowly beside them." - (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation).

They do not yelp or whimper but they do make vibratory sounds, inaudible to our ears, indicating alarm and aggravation. They have a centrally organized nervous system; They feel pain. Their death, by suffocation when they reach the air, is long and drawn out. In the case of deep sea fish, their death by decompression as they are dragged up to the surface is painful.

Those not on farms may lead relatively natural lives and are not interfered with by humans until the time of their death. Thus in their case, we do not confront the issue of factory farming. However, over-fishing is destroying our environment. The recent National Marine Fisheries Service annual report cited 98 species as now over-fished. They include Chilean sea bass, sword fish, shark, shrimp, orange roughy, grouper, scallops, salmon, tuna, Atlantic cod, haddock and pollock.

Also of great concern with regard to fishing is the bycatch. This is the term for unwanted creatures that are caught inadvertently and thrown back, usually dead. We are all familiar with the tragedy of dolphins killed in nets set for Tuna. Sadly, our government is currently working to relax "dolphin-safe" tuna labeling laws, allowing more deaths per dolphin safe label. Less well known than the fate of dolphins is that of other unwanted species and other types of fish caught when certain types are sought. For example, for every pound of shrimp, five to ten pounds of non-shrimp are killed and wasted.

This is how a New York Times article (April 10, 2002) described shrimping:

"Shrimping throughout the world uses bottom-scraping dragnets that haul up 10 pounds of life - often young fish too small to sell - for every pound of shrimp, like gathering wild mushrooms with a bulldozer. Underwater, 'one day there's all kinds of fish, crab, octopus, maybe a turtle, and the next day it's empty, nothing but rocks and a sandy bottom,' said Feliza Ríos, a scuba diving instructor in San Carlos who has seen the effect at first hand."

Shrimping isn't the only source of astonishing waste in the fishing industry. An April 8, 2002, front page story from the Herald Tribune in Southwest Florida told of masses of dead mullet that can be found floating in the waters there. Since female mullet, valued for their roe, fetch five to ten times the price of male mullet, fisherman dump the dead males in the water in order to make more room on their boats for females.

And now, factory farming has come to fish. Farmed fisheries, designed to overcome the problem of over-fishing, assault the environment in other ways. The pens in which farmed fish live pollute the waters with feces. The crowded pens spread lice and disease to the natural inhabitants of the ecosystem. The fish are dosed with antibiotics to fight that disease, the result being that resistant strains of the diseases infect both domestic and wild fish. Thus the system designed to save the wild "stock" is killing them and countless other species in record numbers. You can learn more about these issues from a spectacular front page Los Angeles Times story (December 9, 2002) headed "Fish Farms Become Feedlots of the Sea".

Just as dolphins are slaughtered during sea fishing, sea lions die as a result of fish farming. Attracted to fish farms but seen as pests by the farmers, they are shot on sight.

But isn't fish necessary for good health? Fish oil is often recommended for it high Omega-3 fatty acid count. However the dangers now outweigh the benefits.

What are those dangers?

A 2000 National Academy of Sciences report estimated that 60,000 American women are putting their fetuses "at risk" of brain damage because of the mercury they eat and in Spring 2002, the FDA advised all women of childbearing age not to eat any shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because of their high mercury content, and to limit consumption of all fish to 12 ounces (about two servings) per week.

A front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle (November 5, 2002) began, "A study of affluent Bay Area residents who were seeking health benefits by eating lots of fish found that they were also loading up on toxic mercury." A letter to the editor of that paper (January 4, 2003) , from the Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control opened with "There is no doubt that mercury is dangerous" and closed with, "Zero mercury is the only suitable goal for California's environment and the health of all Californians. It's just common sense.

The December 9, 2002, issue of Time Magazine included an article headed, "Eating fish is good for hearts. Mercury may be bad. Which matters more?" The article discussed the benefits from omega-3 acids in fish oils and weighed them against the dangers of mercury poisoning. However, we learn from the January 19 Heart Disease Weekly that "People who eat fish with a raised mercury content run a greater risk of coronary heart disease than previously thought" and "that mercury, which is found in certain fish from environmentally contaminated areas, may counteract the health benefits of certain fatty acids that are also present in fish."

Thus, there is little point loading up on fish to help one's heart. Thank heavens for flax seed oil, available at your local health food store. Flax seeds are another superb source of the same vital omega-3 fatty acids, and they come with none of the dangers and none of the cruelty.

A superb source of information on all of the above issues is