Meat is Not the Problem, Factory Farming is

By and on January 30, 2021 in Columns, Uncategorized

In 2011, footage from undercover investigations into Iowa Select Farms found employees abusing pigs and piglets with everything from metal rods to clothespins. A year later, the stateof Iowa passed legislation that prohibited collecting evidence of such crimes. 

Few people know about ag-gag laws such as the Iowan legislation. These are anti-whistle-blower laws designed to “gag”, or silence, workers in agriculture. While ag-gag laws are not as widespread in Europe as in the United States, the treatment of animals here is not much better. Many “behind the scenes” of European and even Swedish factory farming is only a few clicks away, including forceful insemination of cows, castration of piglets and crowded chickens dying in their own excrement.   

Factory farming is the new and mechanized farming that has skyrocketed in popularity throughout the 20th century. As its name suggests, factory farming is all about churning out masses of the cheapest flesh possible. So detached from traditional family farming, this new global industry is therefore all about cramped production lines, forced insemination, andliterally bone-breaking growth hormones.  

But to factory farmers, such conditions are necessary. Allowing animals to see to their basic needs for territory, social behaviour, and fresh air is expensive. Keeping animals in tight and inhumane conditions is, on the other hand, cheap. Consequently, factory farming is, by necessity, cruel.  

On the contrary, wild game, as well as wild fish, clams, and seafood suffer none of the enduring pain known to factory-farmed animals. Therefore, it is unfair to gloss over the ethical gap between factory-farmed animals’ uninterrupted, life-long misery and the lives of wild animals killed by hunters and fishermen.  

Many vegetarians would argue that even the very temporary suffering of shot or caught wild animals is so horrific that simply sticking to vegetables is better. This argument is, however, a two-edged sword. You could equally argue in favour of eating wild animals, since growing plants arguably causes more suffering than killing a wild (emphasis on “wild”) animal.  

During plant farming, rodents, birds, and countless smaller animals are sliced in pieces by rotary tillers, run over by tractors, and poisoned by pesticides. Surely, these animals’ suffering should not be neglected either*. That is not to say that there are not any dietary or philosophical reasons to be entirely plant-based. The takeaway is rather that eating wild game and fish likely causes less suffering than yielding crops. 

There are obvious ecological limitations to just how much game we can hunt and how much fish we can catch. Governments must deal with this genuine issue by, for example, regulating hunting seasons. It is also likely that humans will have to get used to eating less meat in the future. For now, though, excessive hunting and overfishing are often much less pressing issues than factory farming. We urge anyone who might disagree to read or, preferably, watch videos of standard-practice factory farming. No one can justify it. 

Consuming factory-farmed meat is clearly unethical, but there is no strong ethical reason to remove wild game meat or fish from your plate. While it is self-explanatory that shooting andfishing animals hurt them momentarily, we need to acknowledge that this short-lived suffering is not comparable to the lifelong misery that factory farm animals endure. In other words, there needs to be a nuanced and adult discussion about the ethics of meat. 

We, the authors, are convinced that our society will eventually find the courage to accept that, while killing and eating wild animals is not necessarily unethical, factory farming surely is. Future generations will look back at factory farming as atrocious, cruel, and inhumane. They will ask themselves how their ancestors could ignore the obvious ethical conflicts of eating meat from what would be best described as industrial torture farms. 

* Interestingly, accounting for accidental killings on plant fields only strengthens the argument against factory farming, since animals in factory farms feed on plant matter.  

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