Meat of the Matter: Foxes 1, Activists 0

Question: What's the most common complaint of animal activists?

I mean, other than accusing livestock producers of killing people with poisonous foods and destroying the Earth by raising cows and pigs.

It's the accusation that, thanks to meat-eaters, animals have to die.

Wild animals rarely factor in that equation, of course, because when wildlife kill each other — well, that's just normal and natural. Unless humans are somehow involved. Then, the death of even a single wild animal is egregious, unnecessary and proof that humans should only interact with the plant world.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to turn back the clock a thousand years to when the human population of North America was so sparse that the hunting, fishing and trapping activities of the indigenous people populating the continent hardly made a dent in the numbers of wildlife.

But thanks to the progress of the very science and technology that provides the platform for the modern vegan lifestyle (and belief system), people were able to settle in comparatively vast numbers in these United States, establishing farms and factories, harvesting timber and mining minerals, building railroads and highways and yes, often causing destruction of habitat and natural resources along the way.

We can't go back in time to undo that often unwitting destruction, but we can remedy some of the environmental damage with modern methods of ecological and wildlife management.

Only one problem: Some animals have to die if others are to live.

That's Nature's immutable law, but when it's applied by people, activists start squawking, even when such interventions are successful.

Of Eagles and Pigs

Here's a case in point: The island foxes that for thousands of years have lived on California's Channel Islands have recently recovered from near-extinction.

Thanks to a concerted effort to reduce their predators, the foxes, which are about the size of a typical house cat, have been removed from the Endangered Species list, a feat that federal wildlife officials are calling "the fastest recovery of a mammal [previously] listed," according to the Associated Press.

As the AP story noted, the foxes that roam San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands were placed on the endangered list in 2004 after they were nearly wiped out by golden eagles, which preyed on the foxes. A combined effort by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy moved hundreds of eagles to Northern California locations, and began capturing and breeding the island foxes in captivity for later release.

But here's the part that angered animal rights groups: Thousands of feral pigs, descendants of the animals farmers brought to the Channel Islands centuries ago, had to be shot to force the golden eagles to forage elsewhere. The effort was successful, of course, but not without controversy.

Activists would have preferred that the pigs be allowed to live, and the eagles be allowed to decimate the foxes, because their "no animal shall ever die at the hand of a human" mantra traps them in an untenable position.

When wildlife populations careen out of balance, or certain species teeter near extinction, activists can only lament the mistakes that occurred often hundreds of year earlier. They have no alternative solutions, in this case, for how endangered fox populations are supposed to recover.

Just as they have no alternative to the challenge of feeding the billions of people alive today who are dependent on animal agriculture and/or hunting and fishing for their very survival, if their vegan lifestyle were somehow to be imposed on the world.

We can't undo the damage caused by the inadvertent or just careless introduction of invasive species. We can't go back in time and educate farmers and settlers about the long-term environmental impact of clearing the forests and plowing the prairies. But we certainly shouldn't stand by idly while the consequences of such ill-advised occurrences damage or destroy the very wildlife populations activists claim to revere.

And let's not forget that the activity that has universally caused the most harm to wildlife and their habitats is the very same activity vegetarian advocates insist is the salvation of the Earth.

It's called agriculture, and in its modern form, it's humanity's greatest achievement. Quite honestly, it's the only possible way to protect both habitat and the animals who depend upon it.

At the same time contemporary veggie and animal activists decry the existence of livestock, they are seemingly incapable of understanding how huge farming's footprint would have to become if all the world's food animals suddenly disappeared.

Nor are they willing to acknowledge that such a monumental occurrence, were it even possible, would be way worse for people, as opposed to the animals they profess to love.

The opinions express in this column are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.