Perpetrating cruelty for the human palate

  • 30/07/1993

WHAT DO an exotic dish of frog legs and the homely egg have in common? Extreme cruelty in bringing them to the table, according to Compassion In World Farming, a British voluntary organisation that has campaigned against factory farming for more than 20 years.

The organisation has brought out two short video films to support its claim. The films -- Hopping Madness and Hens Might Fly -- make the seemingly innocuous trades that supply eggs and frog legs to the market appear to belong to a world of horror.

Hopping Madness is of particular interest to India, which was the largest frog-leg exporter till the trade was banned in the country in 1987. The film begins on a deceptive note of charm and graciousness, with the camera wandering around a fashionable European restaurant, dwelling on a preparation that has all the ingredients of a mouth-watering dish. Then it shows lakes and fields in India and Bangladesh -- the frogs' natural habitat -- with the sitar playing in the background.

The film makes a sudden transition and shows how legs are callously sliced off live frogs. In stomach-churning scenes, every gory aspect of the frog trade is detailed -- factories where the skin is peeled off and the legs are prepared for packaging, the unhygenic working environment and the ultimate irony of the attractive-looking consumer product found on shelves.

The commercialisation of the frog, we are told, has upset the ecological balance in some places. There are farmers who have to use more chemicals in their fields to keep pests at bay, a job undertaken previously by hungry frogs. Hopping Madness combines narration and visuals to give a balanced picture of a cruel trade, never stepping over the line to rabid propaganda.

Hens Might Fly is a chilling portrayal of how normal instincts are perverted when hens are cooped into battery cages and kept alive only to fulfil their egg-laying function. Hens with a 80 cm wing-span are imprisoned in cages only 12.5 cm wide. In such cramped conditions, frustrated hens often vent their natural pecking instinct by maiming each other.