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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): Animal Agriculture, Factory Farming, and Ethical Vegetarianism

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen

Animal Agriculture, Factory Farming, and Ethical Vegetarianism

Like manufacturing, transportation, and many other human enterprises, the production of food became mechanized in the nineteenth century, and industrialized and automated during the twentieth century.  In the United States and other developed countries, independent family farms largely have been replaced by colossal agribusiness ventures.  The processing of animals for food on an industrial scale is termed factory farming, and the facilities in which animals are confined and intensively fed for a short time before they are slaughtered are known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).

Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse, edited by Paula Young Lee, is a multidisciplinary collection of essays on the growth of centralized animal slaughtering facilities in nineteenth-century Europe and North America.  Cultural historian Lee and a dozen contributors describe the evolution of animal processing into a rationalized, automated industry.  Once animals were commodified as production units, systems were established to slaughter them in vast numbers on fast-moving assembly lines, and then render and distribute the parts, all out of view to avoid distressing the general public.  To penetrate the hidden world of industrialized animal slaughter, political scientist Timothy Pachirat worked in an Omaha slaughter plant for a half year.  Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight details Pachirat’s findings that strategies of distance, surveillance, and concealment have been developed not only to hide the slaughter from the outside world, but also to arrange the workers in such a way that their gory business is compartmentalized and neutralized.

The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, edited by Daniel Imhoff, is a collection of more than thirty essays in several sections, including “The Loss of Diversity” and “The Hidden Costs of CAFOs.”  Notable contributors include Wendell Berry, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Michael Pollan, and Eric Schlosser.  The range and quality of the essays are outstanding.  Several helpful appendixes, a glossary, and a section titled “Myths of the CAFO” are featured.  Eating Animals, by bestselling novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, is a deeply affecting account of the brutality of modern methods of factory farming and commercial fishing.  Foer employs effective literary techniques to confront readers with unpleasant realities, juxtaposing accounts of his visits to animal processing facilities with helpful background information.

Factory Farming, edited by Debra Miller, arranges several pro-and-con reprinted articles under each of three questions represented in three chapters: “Is Factory Farming Economically Beneficial?”;”Is Factory Farming an Ethical Way to Treat Animals?”; and “Does Factory Farming Harm Human Health or the Environment?”  A fourth chapter titled “What Is the Future of Factory Farming?” presents five essays that are more nuanced, each stating in one way or another that industrial agriculture needs reform.  This publication is useful because it has become difficult to find defenses of factory farming.  Several of the “pro” reprints are from trade organizations such as the American Meat Institute and the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food by Gene Baur, and The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals by Jenny Brown and Gretchen Primack, are both written by founders of farm sanctuaries that shelter members of livestock and poultry species rescued from slaughter.  Both books combine autobiography with advocacy, describing the different paths by which Baur and Brown each became vegans, the founders and directors of farm sanctuaries, and best-selling authors.  Baur began by rescuing downed animals at slaughter facilities, and has led numerous campaigns to improve conditions of animals being processed for food.  Brown was a videographer who decided to make the farm sanctuary her career after filming at stockyards.

Both animal rights and animal welfare proponents find factory farms and CAFOs abhorrent.  The remedy, from a strict animal rights position, is to stop killing and eating animals.  The welfare position is to treat farm animals more compassionately.  Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food beyond Factory Farms describes the author’s work as an environmental attorney documenting the abuses of factory hog farming.  The author married Bill Niman, the founder of Niman Ranch, which produces meat from livestock raised by “humane” and “sustainable” methods.  An academic approach to the theme of compassionate and sustainable farming can be found in The Future of Animal Farming: Renewing the Ancient Contract, edited by Marian Stamp Dawkins and Roland Bonney.  Essays by notable contributors, including Temple Grandin and Mary Midgley, explore how the business of raising large numbers of animals for food can be conducted with less harm to animals, humans, and the environment.

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, interprets behavioral cues of animals to help human handlers better understand animal emotions and preferences.  Animals in various settings, including home companions and zoo animals, are considered, with an emphasis on poultry and hoofed livestock.  Grandin’s colleague Bernard Rollin is the author of An Introduction to Veterinary Medical Ethics, which includes more than one hundred actual cases presenting ethical dilemmas that arise in the practice.  Philosopher Rod Preece has written numerous books on the intellectual background of animal ethics.  In Sins of the Flesh: A History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought, Preece combines meticulous scholarship with skilled storytelling to present an engrossing narrative with a vast historical sweep, from prehistoric to contemporary times.  Tristram Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times complements Preece’s work with an intensive immersion into British and European vegetarianism in recent centuries.  Stuart provides accounts of the vegetarian inclinations of Gandhi, Hitler, Shelley, Thoreau, and other notables. 

Works Cited