The Buddy and Pedro paradox

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The Toronto Zoo was recently assailed with a controversy featuring two lovelorn penguins. Buddy and Pedro — members of a long-term “bachelor flock” — had forged a tight and tender bond, but were forcibly separated by the zoo in hopes that they would channel their capacity for courtship into the heterosexual project. The particular species of penguin in question, the African or Black-Footed Penguin, is on the edge of extinction, so reproduction is the zoo’s chief priority.

Despite assurances that the separation would only span a few weeks, zoo-goers were deeply angered by the breakup. And the outrage wasn’t confined to the zoo’s patrons. According to The Daily Mail, whose average reader appears to staunchly favor the penguins’ reunification, there is broad, international opposition to the forced separation of the “gay penguins.”

We all gush over cute animal anecdotes such as that of Buddy and Pedro. But at the same time, we turn a blind eye to animal suffering of a colossal scale. Throughout the Toronto Zoo exist several McDonald’s restaurants, where many proponents of penguin reunification dine on the cheap-n-tasty McRib sandwich, the contents of which were extracted from the shockingly inhumane treatment and execution of pigs.

Contemporary agricultural practices in America with respect to pigs, chickens and many other types of poultry simply entail the physical torture of animals en masse. For example, all factory-farmed pigs are castrated (intact pigs supposedly taste rather rebarbative), and most have this unhappy procedure visited upon them without anesthetic. Even more excruciating pain is accorded chickens, whose highly sensitive beaks are seared off with hot blades.

General living conditions are so ghastly that most animals become mentally or physically ruined. After being placed into pens with virtually no moving space, newly born piglets succumb to insanity, aggression and oftentimes cannibalism. Owing to the cramped living conditions, 70 percent eventually contract symptoms of pneumonia. Chickens live in even filthier and more cramped environments than pigs. A 2006 study by Consumer Reports found that a staggering 83 percent of grocery market chickens were infected with either campylobacter or salmonella bacteria or both.

Regarding our professed concern for animal well-being, the contradictions are blindingly obvious. The charming tale of Buddy and Pedro easily tugs at our heartstrings, as do stories of orphaned dogs and cats that we are eager to find shelter for. Yet we are utterly indifferent to the deliberate torture of millions of animals throughout American factory farms. This sad fact either reveals our ignorance of the plight which routinely befalls factory-farmed animals, or else exposes our apparent compassion for our fellow animals as nothing more than a hollow posture.

Matt Cockerill is a blogger for The American Conservative and Young Americans for Liberty.