“According to Manu, the great author of civic codes and religious principles, even the killer of an animal is to be considered a murderer because animal food is never meant for the civilized man, whose prime duty is to prepare himself for going back to Godhead. He says that in the act of killing an animal, there is a regular conspiracy by the party of sinners, and all of them are liable to be punished as murderers exactly like a party of conspirators who kill a human being combinedly. He who gives permission, he who kills the animal, he who sells the slaughtered animal, he who cooks the animal, he who administers distribution of the foodstuff, and at last he who eats such cooked animal food are all murderers, and all of them are liable to be punished by the laws of nature.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.7.37 Purport).
Ever since my first day of law school I’ve wanted to prove this statement of my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada. I’ve wanted to prove that, yes, all six parties are equally guilty of murder in the animal slaughter industry. They are guilty of in a vast conspiracy for murder. But, there has been a problem with the legal theory of conspiracy as it is applied under United States law.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a conspiracy is “a combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act, or some act which is lawful in itself, but becomes unlawful when done by the concerted action of the conspirators, or for the purpose of using criminal or unlawful means to the commission of an act not in itself unlawful.” My problem in proving a murder conspiracy to include all six persons named by Srila Prabhupada lies in a breakdown of the elements in this legal definition.
There are three core elements of a conspiracy found in this definition: 1. agreement to commit a crime; 2. plurality; and 3. knowledge of both the conspiracy and the scope of the agreement. To be guilty of conspiracy a defendant must be shown to have had knowledge of the conspiracy and the essential objective of the conspiracy. Working with these three elements it’s relatively easy to go after conspirators #1, he who gives permission, #2 he who kills the animal, and #3 he who sells the slaughtered. But its not so easy to go after conspirators #4, he who cooks the animal, #5 he who administers distribution of the foodstuff, and #6 he who eats the cooked animal food, because U.S. courts has held that in the proof of conspiracy it is not sufficient to show that a person did something to further the conspiracy, even through commission of unlawful acts, or that a person associated with other members of the conspiracy.
How to rope in these last three classes of conspirators is the problem. Obviously, they benefit in some way from the murder of animals. They may get paid for transporting the slaughtered animals, for cooking or working in restaurants, may simply be sustaining (if you can really claim that eating meat is true sustenance) their lives and the lives of their family members by purchasing, cooking, and eating meat. How much knowledge of the horrors of animal slaughter is legally sufficient to bind them in the conspiracy? Can they be said to have knowledge of the essential objective of the first three classes of conspirators? Or, are they innocent victims of the conspiracy?
We do get some help here from the United States Supreme Court. In Craig v. U.S. the court held that, “a conspiracy may be a continuing one; actors may drop out, and other drop in; the details of operation may change from time to time; the members need not know each other or the part played by others; a member need not know all the details of the plan or the operations; he must however, know the purpose of the conspiracy and agree to become a party to a plan to effectuate that purpose.”
These principles help by lowering the extent of knowledge which is required to implicate conspirators #4, #5, and #6. And, if we apply the broadly accepted economic notion of supply and demand, we can postulate that the scope and essential objectives of the conspiracy integrally link conspirators #4, #5, #6 to conspirators #1, #2, #3. What came first, the supply or the demand? Either way, all six are parties to effectuate the murder of animals.
Still, to convince a jury I needed a stronger link in a murder conspiracy between conspirators #1, #2, #3 and #4, #5, #6, an emotional link, a shared depravity. At last, I think I have found the lynchpin, it is suffering. Knowledge of, and explicit or implicit agreement to, the inexcusable extent of suffering inflicted upon factory farm animals implies an agreement to commit murder.
We also now have a very sympathetic witness, author Jonathan Safran Foer. He exposes the suffering factory farm animals in dramatic style in his latest book, Eating Animals, which was reviewed by Michael O’Donnell in the November 16, 2009 edition of The Christian Science Monitor. Of course, it is not that there have not previously been very credible witnesses in the case against animal slaughter. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and ethical philosopher Peter Singer have been speaking about and documenting animal suffering for years. Yet, Foer is a more sympathetic witness because he can’t be said to have a political agenda as does PETA, or the extreme philosophical conviction as does Singer. Foer is not even a vegetarian. He is your average American. But, in light of knowledge of the cruelty that is animal slaughter, he asks the right questions, and this makes his perspectives invaluable for my case.
O’Donnell writes, “The birth of his first child posed a painful quandary for novelist Jonathan Safran Foer: Would he serve turkey at his son’s first Thanksgiving?
In Eating Animals, a work of nonfiction, Foer (author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) confesses to a lifelong ambivalence toward eating meat. Yet he cherishes memories of childhood meals at his grandmother’s house. At what point, he wonders, should ethical decision-making supplement, rather than supersede, rich and important traditions at table?”
Foer even does research for the case and then asks the essential question. O’Donnell continues, “Spurred by the arrival of his son, Foer set out to decide. He spoke with animal and agribusiness authorities; visited farms and slaughterhouses; and even donned his muckraking boots, breaking into a turkey warehouse along with an animal activist in the middle of the night. But what began as a silly adventure ended in heartbreak: Foer and his friend discovered a barn floor covered with tens of thousands of turkey chicks, many of them deformed, seriously injured, or expired, “as desiccated and loosely gathered as small piles of dead leaves.”
“The book’s tone evolves from twee precocity to stunned outrage to profound grief as Foer acquaints himself with the suffering endured by the tens of billions of animals bred for our food each year. Should he pass this system on to the next generation?”
O’Donnell concludes, “Eating Animals makes the plaintive case that if history and tradition are not exactly trumped by animal suffering, they certainly ought to be informed by it.”
The key here is “informed by.” Foer joins a long list of persons who have served as agents of knowledge in this crusade. Beginning as early as 1906 with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and followed more contemporaneously by the Hare Krishna movement, PETA, Singer, and other vegetarian organizations, knowledge of animal suffering in factory farming is being made widely available in society. Perhaps we have not yet reached the tipping point where everyone can be assumed to be aware of this animal suffering, but I contend that we are close enough to that point to press the case for conspiracy.
Now when I make my final address to the jury in a trial of all six conspirators I can stress that once you are informed you become responsible for your choices, and such responsibility carries the possibility of guilt for murder through conspiracy if you choose to be involved in animal slaughter.[ animals ] [ cow-protection ] [ vegetarianism ]