Calling Cruelty a 'Cultural Trait' Doesn't Excuse It

Allegations that NFL star Michael Vick took an active role in an illegal dogfighting ring, coupled with video of severe treatment of ducks and geese in the foie gras industry, lead to a conclusion: It's hard to excuse cruelty by calling it a cultural trait.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There are a couple of stories in the news this week that make us contemplate that phrase, it's part of a culture. Michael Vick, quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, had been indicted along with three associates for running a dogfighting enterprise out of one his homes in rural Virginia.

Dogfighting is a criminal enterprise. I can't bring myself to call it a sport in which dogs that have been trained to savagery by being beaten, starved and tortured are made to fight other dogs to death. The losers are often killed as bad investments. In fact, Mr. Vick is accused of personally killing eight dogs by hanging, drowning and beating because they lack sufficient viciousness and weren't worth the cost of upkeep. Michael Vick, by the way, has a $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

When the investigation to Mr. Vick was first reported, there were those who derided the idea of outlaw in dogfighting, and said it's simply a part of a culture. That culture argument can make me squirm. I can think of all kinds of crimes including genital mutilation and slavery that were once part of a culture.

This week, it was reported that Amazon.com is selling the foie gras that is made at a factory in Quebec called Elevages Perigord. All foie gras made by force-feeding ducks and geese with mash until their liver swell and often burst. That's harsh. Many would say it's cruel, but undercover video taken at Elevages Perigord by investigators reveal a routine that goes beyond even that.

Ducks and geese in that facility have had their beaks and feet cut off, so they cannot squirm in the extreme confinement of cages that are about as big as shoeboxes. There are shots of workers at the factory punching the birds, leaving ducklings to die in trashcans and suffocating and crushing weak ones that are considered, like the dogs Michael Vick is accused of killing, to be bad assets.

Of course, many people who enjoy foie gras explained that it's simply part of a food culture. They think that people who eat meat and poultry, but shrink from knowing how it's made, fool themselves with phrases like range-free to believe that you can humanely treat any animal who's destined for our food chain.

But I think there's a difference between giving an animal a life with food, sunlight, grass and room to run before or one day they're stunned and slaughtered for food, and torturing an animal in some way every day of its life, before killing it to produce an ostensible delicacy.

You don't have to believe that torturing and killing a dog is the same as torturing and murdering a human being. I believe that torturing a dog is wrong. It is hard to excuse cruelty by calling it a cultural trait.

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