Twelve years ago, the Liberal British MP Lord Alton quit the House of Commons largely because his party supported abortion on demand, but opposed the use of goldfish as fairground prizes. The depravity of the situation was too much even for a liberal parliamentarian. The lord resigned forthwith. The goldfish controversy was back the other week as the ruling Labour Party considered a ban on animals as competition prizes. After an intense debate that must have resembled a Monty Python skit, ministers decided that with elections coming up they would look very silly indeed if they pressed for the goldfish ban.
Similarly the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals appeared rather silly after it recently lost its appeal to halt a California Milk Producers Advisory Board's "Happy Cows" advertising campaign. PETA objected to the campaign's tag line "Great Cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California."
PETA attempted to sue the Milk Board for false advertising, insisting that California cows are no happier than Iowa cows or even, God help them, Missouri Bootheel cows. This seems logical. Besides, what patriotic Iowan or Missourian wants to be told that livestock of some other state -- especially California--are more contented than his own simply by virtue of where they graze? Research indicates that a multiplicity of factors account for happiness: health, wealth, access to knowledge, equality, and personal freedom. Environment is far down on the list. Few of these factors, however, concern cows overly much.
So far as I know there have been no surveys to determine where the happiest people (or animals) in the U.S. live. But such polls have been undertaken in Europe. The surprise winner: the Belgian port city of Antwerp. Yes, Antwerps are very happy indeed. Happier than their Dutch neighbors who have legalized both pot and prostitution.
Despite a life expectancy of 50 years, periodic droughts, rampant AIDS, a poverty level of 60 percent, frequent Muslim-Christian conflicts, and an unstable government, the happiest people in the world, according to a 2003 World Values Survey, are the Nigerians. Of course, no one bothered to survey Nigerian cattle, but I suspect native cows are rather unhappy about their homeland's continuing loss of pasture lands to desertification, soil degradation, rapid deforestation, water pollution, and near constant oil spills.
PETA maintains that most milch cows, regardless of where they dwell, live Hobbesian lives that are nasty, brutish and short, and the California government's propaganda was actually a devious plot meant to mislead the lactose tolerant. Despite the soundness of this argument, PETA's suit was dismissed on a technicality. It seems one cannot sue a government agency under the California Unfair Business Practices Act. Thus the American public missed out on yet another silly and no doubt highly amusing spectacle.
Scientific researchers are making great progress in many areas, but they are woefully behind in their research on fish stress and bovine contentment. Perhaps because they have other priorities: like safer breast implants. PETA, however, claims to recognize a wretched or a contented critter when it sees one. That is a useful and significant trait to have, especially if, like me, you share quarters with a large, ornery tomcat. Perhaps the folks at PETA can have a look at my feline friend and tell me what on earth I have done to offend him. Do I not clean up after him? Do I not allow him to stay rent-free? Haven't I fed and fussed over him? Was it something I said?
Now that the appeals court has dismissed PETA's case, the justices are free to take up other significant issues. Here's my suggestion. Perhaps they can investigate why California taxpayers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise milk.
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