Asking the right questions

There are many groups I don’t understand and two of them stand out at the moment, aninal rights activists and feminists. They have something in common; they often focus on minor issues and ignore some of the bigger battles.

The government considered attaching a conscience clause to the abortion law a couple of years ago, but dropped it because of the massive protests. The idea was that GP’s could choose not to refer a woman for abortion, and as most doctors have a cooperation with other doctors. this has never been a problem. The conscience clause became a big feminist issue when they claimed it was an attempt to prevent women from getting an abortion, even though there was no evidence to suggest that it had been a problem.

Doctors have to report to The Norwegian Health Economics Administration. They use codes and two of them are interesting in this context, unwanted pregnancies and abortion. These two codes were used 4773 times in 2013, the year we had this debate. That doesn’t mean that all these consultations resulted in abortion, but that’s the number of women that went to their GP for it. There are 15 000 abortions in Norway every year, which means that the majority contact the hospital directly. It would surprise me if this was the biggest threat women in Norway faced, but that’s what the feminist blogger that started this had everyone believe. We don’t know much about what happens to women and children running from the Middle East for example, or how they are doing in our refugee centers. We know, however, that many get a brutal encounter with the Norwegian CPS. That sounds like a bigger problem to me as the Norwegian abortion law is far from conservative.

I often get the same feeling when I read news about animal rights activists. It happened again a few days ago when I became aware of a campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). They have made a poster where a model is holding a lamb and both are smeared with fake blood. A photographer wanted to show a different picture, and although there undoubtedly are farmers who commit atrocities against their own animals, I think it’s wrong to argue that we should stick to synthetic materials. You can see the photos on the Daily Mercury.

PETA like to provoke and they got some attention three years ago when they made a commercial comparing gutting fish with violence against women and children. Fish feel pain, but is it wrong to eat them? What about predators? There is a lot of pain and fear involved when they kill, but I’m not sure the activists distinguish between animals and humans in this context. This organizations seems to be among the most active and organized, but whether they choose the right battles is another matter. When I looked up information I also came across a story about a demand for a sheep memorial. A truck transporting 390 sheep had had an accident and 120 of then died. Read about it in the Telegraph.

I believe predators have the right to exist, but if we didn't hunt, we would have to lave it uo to them to prevent overpopulation. These are wolves in a US national park hunting bison.
I believe predators have the right to exist, but if we didn’t hunt, we would have to leave it up to them to prevent overpopulation. That means a lot of predators. These are wolves in a US national park hunting bison.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

PETA is far from the only animal welfare organization that wants us to stop eating fish and meat completely. What would have happened if everyone became vegetarians? I came across an article in the Independent that claimed to have the answer. They think it would put an end to hunger because the world produces enough grain today. It’s just that we use it to feed animals. I’ve heard the same argument from the seed producer Monsanto before. They claim that if everyone started using their modified and patented seeds, famine would cease to exist. The truth is that we are growing enough food, and have probably always done so, but if you don’t have money to buy it, you are not eating it. It’s that simple!

The newspaper also believes there will be more land available for a growing population, animals would suffer less, and there would be a sharp decline in the use of antibiotics. These are good arguments, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. An agriculture without animals would have given us some benefits. There would have been less polution in the form of methane gas, but the land wouldn’t be used for low income housing projects. There are 570 million farms world wide according to globalagriculture.org and most of them are small. Farms of less than a hectare constitute 72 percent of all farms, yet only 8 percent of the agricultural area. Most farms (90 percent) rely solely on labour from family. This is only a thought experiment, but if we imagine that the world suddenly turned vegetarian, what do you think would happen to these families? Would they have enough income to buy the land? Some of the land would produce plants because without meat we would need more food, some of the unused land would probably turn into desert, while grass and trees would cover some.

The activists seem to think that meat production has to be a threat, while everything else is solely a benefit for nature. Modern agriculture, unless it’s organic, is destructive. There’s been a focus in recent years, at least in Norway, on reducing the amount of palm oil in processed food. That’s because large companies cut down rain forest to produce this oil, but most people don’t realize that we have the same thing happening with the production of corn, wheat and soy. Most processed food contain one or all of these, and we can never be sure where these plants have grown. Leaving meat behind isn’t guaranteed to make you healthier, or to help people living near the rainforests. We may feel better when we buy fairtrade coffee, bananas, flowers, chocolate, rice, cotton et cetera, but giving the farmers better business terms isn’t enough if the food makes them sick.

It’s also is debatable how healthy this food is. Wheat is problematic because the plant has changed so much since the 1980’s, thanks to genetic manipulation. Soy provides some health benefits, but there is also research suggesting it’s harmful to both the body and the brain. It may not be harmful to everyone, but why risk it if we have alternatives? Corn is basically very healthy, and there are many debunkers online claiming that any other position is a pure lie, but the truth is that we don’t know the effects of modified corn. The USA is a big producer and 90 percent is genetically modified. Plants that have been modified to withstand large amounts of the herbicide 2,4-D have received the most attention. This substance is classified as toxic and can damage the central nervous system. Monsanto produce so-called RoundUp Ready Corn, which is of course designed to increase the use of herbicides. That’s the whole point.

I have written about publication bias in previous posts, including a survey among Norwegian universities confirming it’s a problem here as well. Publication bias means that studies are less likely to be published if they don’t show the desired result, or if the result is inconclusive. This could have many consequences, and doctors who want to read up on a new medicine before recommending it to patients know there could be vital information they don’t have access to. We are basically asked to trust big pharma.

It’s the same principle in the food industry. We are told that there are cracinogenic substances in our food, but far too small amounts to cause any damage. The problem is that we are asked to trust research that the industry is funding, or the same health authorities that panicked when swine flu supposedly invaded Norway. We are also told that aluminum and mercury are harmless, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA classify both as toxic heavy metals.

There is a lot to consider, but I’m not sure we’d create a better civilization if we let all animals die of old age. That would be a civilization that couldn’t deal with death. That is a world where death is an enemy that must be fought, and although it’s sad when life is over, also for our animals, it is natural. Besides, it should provoke us even more that many act when they think animals are suffering, while they don’t have any problems seeing people suffer.

Many people like to point to science an so-called evidence-based measures, but are they really asking the right questions? That’s what science is about, but it doesn’t look like there are that many independent scientists asking questions, and I think there would be a lot of concerned scientists if they asked questions. Maybe it’s just as well to stop using all the labels that are supposed to help us make the right choice.We could have only one: Toxic food. The rest is sort of organic.

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