Just recently we celebrated the rescue of another "bile farmed" bear who had spent 14 years of his life caged and extracted of his bile. Ti Map, (or Chubby Mouse), was the last farmed bear in the province of Binh Thuan in southern Vietnam and was rather remarkably offered into our care by the farmer himself, who announced he no longer wanted to be part of the trade.
Known in the area by virtue of an advertising sign outside of his house, that boasted the healing effects of bear bile (while ignoring the mutilation of the bear), the farmer suddenly announced that he and his wife wanted to give the bear up, but not to another farm. Apologizing to the local Forest Protection Department, for violating Vietnam's laws, the farmer also said that the couple did not want the bear to be abused any more, they wanted him to see no more suffering.
Just this week, because this farmer had the moral integrity to admit the truth of an industry in which he was engaged, Ti Map arrived on site at Animals Asia's expansive Vietnam sanctuary after our team escorted him virtually from one end of the country to the other. Now settling into his new life, and being spoiled with food he could only have dreamed of before, Ti Map is hopefully putting the misery of his caged and farmed suffering well and truly behind.
This would not be the first time that a bear farmer has reflected on the cruel trade for which he is responsible, and has asked us to rescue the bears. In China today, bear farming is known as a stain on the country and we anticipate that the trend of farmers giving up their industry will escalate as they respond to both the call of the public, and their own conscience, and do what is right by the bears.
In fact, this story highlights the growing conflict in the broader farming industry, that hurting the animals they raise, is hurting the farmers themselves. A recent story in Modern Farmer with the title "Farm Confessional: I Raise Livestock And I Think It May Be Wrong" sees a rather astonishing, but honest, admission by the author that, while he continues to raise approximately 500 pigs a year, he is now admitting to a desire that humanity evolves in to a species that no longer kills to eat. He also wrote about the issue for The Huffington Post.
While this blog may now begin to sit uncomfortably on some readers' shoulders, and may even provoke the turning of the page, there is something rather profound when a farmer talks compassionately about the sentience of the animals he raises and sends to slaughter, and states that industrialized farming "should be abandoned immediately." Bob Comis looks at the animals he rears, and researches, rationalizes and respects the quality of their lives with the conclusion that, as humane as his own practices are, they still cause suffering to an uncomfortable degree.
Drawn to this man I continued reading, as he maintained that one cannot force a pig to do anything without causing physical or psychological harm. How many farmers in the world "encourage" a pig to enter a transport vehicle, or the doors of the slaughterhouse, and have the time to ensure a painless, respectful end to their lives?
As Comis says, "You cannot have a humane industrial slaughterhouse" that leads these animals to their deaths.
As more people acknowledge this fact and either seek humanely raised animals, or avoid all doubt by adopting a vegan lifestyle, now it seems that even whole countries are eschewing meat. Predictions cite that Israel may become the world's first vegan nation -- with approximately 1 million out of the country's 8 million people no longer eating meat -- and another 13 percent now considering turning vegan or vegetarian.
Showing that consumers in Israel are massively moving towards healthier foods, perhaps values such as Comis' are somewhat ignored as people adopt a vegan lifestyle purely for the sake of improving their overall health. Papers abound to support a plant-based diet in terms of reducing our cholesterol and blood pressure levels, maintaining a healthy heart and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
But still, as someone working in the field of animal welfare I can't ignore the overwhelming evidence that even animals raised "humanely" ultimately suffer for our consumptive gain. And vegan now, I read stories such as this with the conviction that, as Comis winds his pig farm down and prepares for his new life as a vegetable farmer, he is absolutely right that we continue to ignore the suffering of the animals we eat, not just at their peril, but at our own peril too.