Worldly Life on Earth
and the Meaning of the
On Scientific Criticism against Assembly-Line
Farming and Massive Culling
Wu Hee-jong | Professor at Veterinary College, Seoul National University
The meaning of the Buddha’s coming to this world was to bring comfort to all beings and “to escape suffering and attain happiness.” Buddhism gives us a thorough insight into the reality of “dependent arising” and on the interdependent connection between all things, wherein the whole is a part and a part is the whole. Each and every living being originates from interdependent links to other things and are irreplaceable; one existence forms the basis of another.
To say that the purpose of the Buddha’s birth was to shed light on the laws of the universe, is to simply repeat what has already been known from the beginning. The real importance of the Buddha’s birth lies in his teachings on how mankind should live while confronting a world distorted by greed, anger and ignorance. The Buddha’s teachings emphasized an attitude toward life called “universal compassion” based on the concept that a ‘non-dualistic’ world inevitably arises from interdependent links.
If you and I are not different, I am not different from the members of our society. The greed, anger and ignorance inside me are the greed, anger and ignorance of this society and this world, and the delusions of the global village are linked to the delusions of an individual. Financial capitalism, sometimes called neo-liberalism, regards the satisfaction of desire as having the highest value and pursues mass production and, to sustain this, mass consumption. The polarization between countries and classes is deepening under the justification of globalization and free competition, and things are prioritized by the logic of capitalism.
In this pervasive environment of greed, anger and ignorance, the value of living things is reduced to being raw material for capitalism and therefore, objects of desire. This results in the large-scale culling and burial of animals, which in turn become an ecological disaster for society as well. Poultry has lost its value as a life form, and more than 10 million poultry were buried alive in March 2014. Such stories are no longer confined to the TV screen, and such questions as “Is the mass murder of animals justifiable at all?” have begun to surface.
Hit by an outbreak of high-pathogenic H5N8-type aerial influenza, the government, with only the excuse that they were taking preventive measures in accordance with international standards, buried alive more than 10 million head of poultry. This huge figure was possible because the number of chickens and ducks raised by each farmhouse reached several thousands, at times as many as tens of thousands. That is due to the assembly-line methods used to breed poultry and because some poultry farms were within a certain radius from where the epidemic broke out. Therefore, they were all buried with no regard as to whether they were actually sick or infected.
From the start of the epidemic, the quarantining authority placed more weight on the theory that the disease was brought in by migratory birds. Accordingly, they prohibited feeding migratory birds and executed a complete quarantine of all migratory bird habitats throughout the nation. The government hurriedly announced counter measures and established the “Migratory Bird Warning System” to inform farms in the vicinity of the epidemic on routes of migratory birds and issued warnings. However, this drew criticism from both national and international scientific circles. In addition, the “Special Professional Scientific Commission for Aerial Influenza and Wild Birds,” run by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued a statement on the outbreak of aerial influenza in Korea on the same day the government’s Epidemiologic Survey Committee released its quarantine measures,
The key statement in the Commission’s announcement, which is a group of world-class scientists, said, “Most of the high pathogenic aerial influenza has been occurring at poultry farms.” They also said, “So far no H5N8-type virus has been found in wild birds in any part of the world,” and that “higher is the possibility that a low pathogenic virus has mutated into a high pathogenic one at poultry farms and was spread by people, cars and poultry feed.”
Nevertheless, the preventive measures the government took, unlike the recommendations of International Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), were based on the assumption that migratory birds were the only reason for the outbreak. This was not only a waste of time and money spent to mobilize people to carry out these preventive measures, it also impacted the environment in areas near the killing sites.
Even more problematic is the spread of the disease rather than its occurrence. Like human influenza, it is natural for influenza to occasionally appear in birds, but what causes real problems is the disease spreading and causing an epidemic.
After all, from the outbreak of the disease to the destruction of the birds, no real justification was ever established, and the international standard was also not followed. In many countries, a more selective destruction method is adopted if the epidemic is not in a very early stage, and the radius for determining targets to be destroyed is flexibly managed. Whether it is the occurrence of the disease or efforts to quarantine it, the disease arises and progresses in accordance with the interdependent links of multiple causes and conditions. Various industrial structures and economic considerations of the neoliberalism era are intricately connected, and the pervasive meat-eating culture of our society also exacerbates the situation.
At present, when a meat-eating culture is already well established, to draw a valid social agreement, the two perspectives of the meateating culture and the vegetarian culture must be recognized and considered in parallel, and solutions must be sought in consideration of economics, ecologically safe livestock farming and a social consensus. This requires changes in how we live. Without a change in our understanding and without a demand for healthy and ecologically sustainable foodstuff at the consumer level, the current situation will never be improved. With regard to the increased cost of humane and organic breeding, consumers need to demand that part of the costs should be subsidized by the government.
Without recognizing the pain and suffering of living creatures that live and die to nourish us, a change in our understanding of what a healthy livestock product is will not be possible. Whether one consumes or is consumed, when people recognize that all living things are inter-connected and can feel pain, the inhumane stock-breeding practices of today for increased profits will be reduced, the outbreaks of disease will diminish, and measures to prevent epidemics will also change. The Diamond Sutra says one must live for all living beings that make our existence possible. This exhorts us to understand the interdependent equality of all living beings and to constantly renew the vow to live for all living beings. Relying on scientific methods to help us stay young and live longer while killing animals en masse by no means shows respect for life; it is clinging to life. Clinging to life by seeking capitalist solutions can not be regarded as a respect for life. Beyond an uncritical acceptance of science, technology and government policies, an insight into human desire and changing our way of thinking and our way of living are the life ethics we need here and now.
Wu Hee-jong | Masters and Ph.D. in biopharmacology, Tokyo University. Post-doc Researcher at Medical College, University of Pennsylvania. Instructor at Medical College, Harvard University. Assistant Professor at Medical College, Boston University. Currently, Professor of Immunology, Veterinary Dept., Veterinary College, Seoul National University and a Research Member at the Commission for Buddhist Life Ethics of the Jogye Order. He wrote Life Science and Zen in Korean.