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Factory Farming FAQs

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 48. The animals are killed so fast that they don't feel any pain or even know they're being killed; what's wrong with that?

 49. What is factory farming, and what is wrong with it?

 50. But cattle can't be factory-farmed, so I can eat them, right?

 51. But isn't it true that cows won't produce milk (or chickens lay eggs) if they are not content?

 52. Don't hens lay unfertilized eggs that would otherwise be wasted?

 53. But isn't it true that the animals have never known anything better?

 54. Don't farmers know better than city-dwelling people about how to treat animals?

 55. Can't we just eat free-range products?

 56. Anything wrong with honey?

 57. Don't crop harvest techniques and transportation, etc., lead to the death of animals?

 58. Modern agriculture requires us to push animals off land to convert it to crops; isn't this a violation of the animals' rights?

 59. Don't farmers have to kill pests?

          Additional topics: A Farming Story   Bible on Vegetarianism   God   Was Man Designed to Eat Meat?  Designed 2    Pete Singer, on Food
  New Vegetarians    Compassionate Vegans   Meat Need

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Evolutionary History of What Mammals Eat


#48 The animals are killed so fast that they don't feel any pain or even know they're being killed; what's wrong with that?

Quickly killing an animal in the wild is much less cruel than factory farming. However, it ignores that animals' basic right to be left alone to lead their own lives. If our real concern is to keep animals from starving, we should not hunt, but take steps to reduce the animals' fertility. We should also preserve wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and other natural predators. Actually, many deer herds and duck populations are carefully managed (artificially manipulated) to produce more and more animals for hunters to kill. If for some unusual reason it should be necessary for the animals to be shot, sharpshooters should be employed. Sharpshooters are more likely to kill the animals quickly, not just wound them, and would choose those who seemed ill or in pain, not just shoot randomly.

This view can only be maintained by those unfamiliar with modern meat production methods. Great stress occurs during transport in which millions die miserably each year. And the conveyor-belt approach to the slaughtering process causes the animals to struggle for their lives as they experience the agony of the fear of death. Only people who have never watched the process can believe that they don't feel any pain or aren't aware that they're being killed.

One point that many people are unaware of is that poultry is exempted from the requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act. Egg-laying hens are typically not stunned before slaughter. Also exempt from the act are animals killed under Kosher conditions (see question #49).

But even if no suffering were involved, the killing of sensitive, intelligent animals on a vast scale (over six billion each year in the U.S. alone) cannot be regarded as morally correct, especially since today it is demonstrably clear that eating animal flesh is not only unnecessary but even harmful for people. Fellow-mammals are not like corn or carrots. To treat them as if they were is to perpetuate an impoverished morality which is based not on rationality but merely tradition. --DVH

Even the climactic killing process itself is not so clean as one is led to believe. Every method carries strong doubts about its "humaneness". For example, consider electrocution. We routinely give anesthetics to people receiving electro-shock therapy due to its painful effects. Consider the pole-axe. It requires great skill to deliver a perfect, instantly fatal blow. Few possess the skill, and many animals suffer from the ineptness with which the process is administered. Consider Kosher slaughter, where an animal is hoisted and bled to death without prior stunning. Often joints are ruptured during the hoisting, and the death is a slow, conscious one. The idea of a clean, painless kill is a fantasy promulgated by those with a vested interest in the continuance of the practices. --DG

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#49 What is factory farming, and what is wrong with it?

Factory farming is an industrial process that applies the philosophy and practices of mass production to animal farming. Animals are considered not as individual sentient beings, but rather as a means to an end--eggs, meat, leather, etc. The objective is to maximize output and profit. The animals are manipulated through breeding, feeding, confinement, and chemicals to lay eggs faster, fatten more quickly, or make leaner meat. Costs are minimized by recycling carcasses through feed, minimizing unit space, not providing bedding (which gets soiled and needs cleaning), and other practices.

Battery-hen egg production is perhaps the most publicized form. Hens are "maintained" in cages of minimal size, allowing for little or no movement and no expression of natural behavior patterns. Hens are painfully debeaked and sometimes declawed to protect others in the cramped cage. There are no floors to the cages, so that excrement can fall through onto a tray--the hens therefore are standing on wire. Cages are stacked on top of each other in long rows, and are kept inside a climate-controlled barn. The hens are then used as a mechanism for turning feed into eggs. After a short, miserable life they are processed as boiler chickens or recycled.

Other typical factory farming techniques are used in pig production, where animals are kept in concrete pens with no straw or earth, unable to move more than a few inches, to ensure the "best" pork. When sows litter, piglets are kept so the only contact between the sow and piglets is access to the teats. The production of veal calves is a similar restraining process. The calves are kept in narrow crates which prevent them from turning; they can only stand or lie down. They are kept in the dark with no contact with other animals.

Factory farming distresses people because of the treatment of the animals; they are kept in unnatural conditions in terms of space, possible behaviors, and interactions with other animals. Keeping animals in these circumstances is not only cruel to the animals, but diminishes the humanity of those involved, from production to consumption.

In addition, the use of chemicals and hormones to maximize yields, reduce health problems in the animals, and speed production may also be harmful to human consumers. --JK

SEE ALSO: #12, #14, #32, #48, #50

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#50 But cattle can't be factory-farmed, so I can eat them, right?

At this time, cattle farming has not progressed to the extremes inflicted on some other animals--cows still have to graze. However, the proponents of factory farming are always considering the possibilities of extending their techniques, as the old-style small farm becomes a faded memory and farming becomes a larger and more complex industry, competing for finance from consumers and lenders. Cattle farming practices such as increasing cattle densities on feedlots, diet supplementation, and controlled breeding are already being implemented. Other developments will be introduced.

However, as discussed in question #49, it is not only the method of farming that is of concern. Transport to the slaughterhouse, often a long journey in crowded conditions without access to food and water, and the wait at the slaughterhouse followed by the slaughtering process are themselves brutal and harmful. And the actual killing process is itself not necessarily clean or painless (see question #48). --JK

We can challenge the claim that cattle cannot be factory-farmed; it just isn't true. We can also challenge the claim that if it were true, it would justify killing and eating cattle.

A broad view of factory farming includes practices that force adaptations (often through breeding) that increase the "productivity" of animal farming. Such increases in productivity are invariably achieved at the expense of increased suffering of the animals concerned. This broader view definitely includes cattle, both that raised for meat and for dairy production.

Veal production is paradigmatic factory farming. David Cowles-Hamar describes it as follows: "Veal calves are kept in isolation in 5'x2' crates in which they are unable even to turn around. They are kept in darkness much of the time. They are given no bedding (in case they try to eat it) and are fed only a liquid diet devoid of iron and fiber to keep their flesh anemic and pale. After 3-5 months they are slaughtered."

    Dairy farming also qualifies as factory-farming. Here are some salient facts:

    Calves are taken away at 1-3 days causing terrible distress to both the cows and the calves; many calves go for veal production.

    Over 170,000 calves die each year due to poor husbandry and appalling treatment at markets.

    Cows are milked for 10 months and produce 10 times the milk a calf would take naturally. Mastitis (udder inflammation) frequently results.

    Cows are fed a high-protein diet to increase yield; often even this is not enough and the cow is forced to break down body tissues, leading to acidosis and consequent lameness. About 25 percent of cows are afflicted.

    At about 5 years of age, the cow is spent and exhausted and is slaughtered. The normal life span is about 20 years.

Finally, we cannot accept that even if it were not possible to factory-farm cattle, that therefore it is morally acceptable to kill and eat them. David Cowles-Hamar puts it this way: "The suggestion that animals should pay for their freedom with their lives is moral nonsense." --DG

SEE ALSO: #14, #48-#49

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#51 But isn't it true that cows won't produce milk (or chickens lay eggs) if they are not content?

In order for a cow to produce milk, she must have a calf. Dairy cows are impregnated every year in order to keep up a steady supply of milk. In the natural order of things, the cow's calf would drink her milk (eliminating her need to be milked by humans). But dairy cows' babies are taken away within a day or two of birth so that humans can have the milk nature intended for calves. Female dairy calves may be slaughtered immediately or raised to be future dairy cows. Male dairy calves are confined for 16 weeks in tiny veal crates too small for them even to turn around in. The current high demand for dairy products requires that cows be pushed beyond their natural limits, genetically engineered and fed growth hormones in order to produce huge quantities of milk. Even the few farmers who choose not to raise animals intensively must both eliminate the calf (who would otherwise drink the milk) and eventually send the mother off to slaughter after her milk production wanes.

This is simply untrue. Lactation is a physiological response that follows giving birth. The cow cannot avoid giving milk any more than she can avoid producing urine. The same is true of chickens and egg-laying; the egg output is manipulated to a high level by selective breeding, carefully regulated conditions that simulate a continuous summer season, and a carefully controlled diet.

To drive this point home further, consider that over the last five decades, the conditions for egg-laying chickens have become increasingly unnatural and confining (see question #49), yet the egg output has increased many times over. Chickens will even continue to lay when severely injured; they simply cannot help it. --DG

SEE ALSO: #49, #52, #55

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#52 Don't hens lay unfertilized eggs that would otherwise be wasted?

Yes, but that is no justification for imposing barbaric and cruel regimes on them designed to artificially boost their egg production. If the questioner is wondering if it is OK to use eggs left by free-range chickens "to go cold", then the answer from the AR side is that free-range egg production is not so idyllic as one might like to think (see question #55). Also, such a source of eggs can satisfy only a tiny fraction of the demand. --DG

SEE ALSO: #49, #51, #55

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#53 But isn't it true that the animals have never known anything better?

To be prevented from performing the most basic, instinctual behaviors causes tremendous suffering. Even animals caged since birth feel the need to move around, groom themselves, stretch their limbs or wings, and exercise. Herd animals and flock animals become distressed when they are made to live in isolation or when they are put in groups too large for them to be able to recognize other members. In addition, all confined animals suffer from intense boredom--some so severely that it can lead to self-mutilation or other self-destructive behavior.

If someone bred a race of humans for slavery, would you accept their excuse that the slaves have never known anything better? The point is that there IS something better, and they are being deprived of it. --DG

"Not having known anything better does not alleviate the suffering of the animal. Its fundamental desires remain and it is the frustration of those desires that is a great part of its suffering. There are so many examples: the dairy cow who is never allowed to raise her young, the battery hen who can never walk or stretch her wings, the sow who can never build a nest or root for food in the forest litter, etc. Eventually we frustrate the animal's most fundamental desire of all--to live." --David Cowles-Hamar

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#54 Don't farmers know better than city-dwelling people about how to treat animals?

This view is often put forward by farmers (and their family members). Typically they claim that, by virtue of proximity to their farmed animals, they possess some special knowledge. When pressed to present this knowledge, and to show how it can justify their exploitation of animals or discount the animals' pain and suffering, only the tired arguments addressed in this FAQ come forth. In short, there is no "special knowledge".

One should also remember that those farmers who exploit animals have a strong vested interest in the continuance of their practices. Would one assert that a logger knows best about how the forests should be treated?

Technically, this argument is an instance of the "genetic fallacy". Ideas should be evaluated on their own terms, not by reference to the originators. --DG

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#55 Can't we just eat free-range products?

The term "free-range" is used to indicate a production method in which the animals are (allegedly) not factory-farmed but, instead, are provided with conditions that allow them to fully express their natural behavior. Some people feel that free-range products are thus ethically acceptable. There are two cases to be considered: first, the case where the free-range animal itself is slaughtered for use, and second, the case where the free-range animal provides a product (typically, hens providing eggs, or cows providing milk).

Common to both cases is a problem with misrepresentation of conditions as "free-range". Much of what passes for free-range is hardly any better than standard factory-farming; a visit to a large "free-range egg farm" makes that obvious (and see MT's comments below).

Nutritionally, free-range products are no better than their factory-farmed equivalents, which are wholly or partly responsible for a list of diseases as long as your arm.

For the case of free-range animals slaughtered for use, we must ask why should a free-range animal be any more deserving of an unnecessary death than any other animal? Throughout this FAQ, we have argued that animals have a right to live free from human brutality. Our brutality cannot be excused by our provision of a short happy life. David Cowles-Hamar puts it this way: "The suggestion that animals should pay for their freedom with their lives is moral nonsense." Another thing to think about is the couple described at the end of question #13. Their babies are free-range, so it's OK to eat them, right?

For the case of products from free-range animals, we can identify at least four problems: 1) it remains an inefficient use of food resources, 2) it is still environmentally damaging, 3) animals are killed off as soon as they become "unproductive", and 4) the animals must be replaced; the nonproductive males are killed or go to factory farms (the worst instance of this is the fate of male calves born to dairy cows; many go for veal production). --BRO

What's wrong with free-range eggs? To get laying hens you must have fertile eggs and half of the eggs will hatch into male chicks. These are killed at once (by gassing, crushing, suffocation, decompression, or drowning), or raised as "table birds" (usually in broiler houses) and slaughtered as soon as they reach an economic weight. So, for every free-range hen scratching around the garden or farm (who, if she were able to bargain, might pay rent with her daily infertile egg), a corresponding male from her batch is enduring life in a broiler house or has already been subjected to slaughter or thrown away to die. Every year in Britain alone, more than 35 million day-old male chicks are killed. They are mainly used for fertilizer or dumped in landfill sites.

The hens are slaughtered as soon as their production drops (usually after two years; their natural life span is 5-7 years). Also, be aware that many sites classified as free-range aren't really free-range; they are just massive barns with access to the outside. Since the food and light are inside, the hens rarely venture outside. --MT

SEE ALSO: #13, #49-#50, #52

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#56 Anything wrong with honey?

Bees are often killed in the production of honey, in the worst case the whole hive may be destroyed if the keeper doesn't wish to protect them over the winter. Not all beekeepers do this, but the general practice is one that embodies the attitude that living things are mere material and have no intrinsic value of their own other than what commercial value we can wrench from them. Artificial insemination involving death of the male is now also the norm for generation of new queen bees. The favored method of obtaining bee sperm is by pulling off the insect's head (decapitation sends an electrical impulse to the nervous system which causes sexual arousal). The lower half of the headless bee is then squeezed to make it ejaculate. The resulting liquid is collected in a hypodermic syringe. --MT

SEE ALSO: #22, #39-#41

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#57 Don't crop harvest techniques and transportation, etc., lead to the death of animals?

The questioner's probable follow-up is to assert that since we perform actions that result in the death of animals for producing crops, a form of food, we should therefore not condemn actions (i.e., raising and slaughter) that result in the death of animals for producing meat, another form of food. How do we confront this argument?

It is clear that incidental (or accidental, unintended) deaths of animals result from crop agriculture. It is equally clear that intentional deaths of animals result from animal agriculture. Our acceptance of acts that lead to incidental deaths does not require the acceptance of acts that lead to intentional deaths. (A possible measure of intentionality is to ask if the success of the enterprise is measured by the extent of the result. In our case, the success of crop agriculture is not measured by the number of accidental deaths; in animal agriculture, conversely, the success of the enterprise is directly measured by the number of animals produced for slaughter and consumption.)

Having shown that the movement from incidental to intentional is not justified, we can still ask what justifies even incidental deaths. We must realize that the question does not bear on Animal Rights specifically, but applies to morality generally. The answer, stripped to its essentials, is that the rights of innocents can be overridden in certain circumstances. If rights are genuinely in conflict, a reasonable principle is to violate the rights of the fewest.

Nevertheless, when such an overriding of the rights of innocents is done, there is a responsibility to ensure that the harm is minimized. Certainly, crop agriculture is preferable to animal agriculture in this regard. In the latter case, we have the added incidental harm due to the much greater amount of crops needed to produce animals (versus feeding the crops directly to people), AND the intentional deaths of the produced animals themselves.

Finally, many argue for organic and more labor-intensive methods of crop agriculture that reduce incidental deaths. As one wag puts it, we have a responsibility to survive, but we can also survive responsibly! --DG

SEE ALSO: #58-#59

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#58 Modern agriculture requires us to push animals off land to convert it to crops; isn't this a violation of the animals' rights?

Pushing animals off their habitats to pursue agriculture is a less serious instance of the actions discussed in question #57, which deals with animal death as a result of agriculture. Refer to that question for relevant discussion.

An abiding theme is that vegetarianism versus meat eating, and crop agriculture versus animal agriculture, tend to minimize the amount of suffering. For example, more acreage is required to support animal production than to support crop production (for the same nutritional capability). Thus, animal production encroaches more on wildlife than does crop agriculture. We cannot eliminate our adverse effects, but we can try to minimize them. --DG

SEE ALSO: #57, #59

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#59 Don't farmers have to kill pests?

we could simply say that less pests are killed on a vegetarian diet and that killing is not even necessary for pest management, but because the issue is interesting, we answer more fully!

This question is similar to question #57 in that the questioner's likely follow-up is to ask why it is acceptable to kill pests for food but not to kill animals for food. It differs from question #57 in that the defense that the killing is incidental is not available because pests are killed intentionally. We can respond to this argument in two ways. First, we can argue that the killing is justifiable, and second, we can argue that it is not necessary and should be avoided. Let's look at these in turn.

Our moral systems typically allow for exceptions to the requirement that we not harm others. One major exception is for self-defense. If we are threatened, we have the right to use force to resist the threat. To the extent that pests are a threat to our food supplies, our habitats, or our health, we are justified in defending ourselves. We have the responsibility to use appropriate force, but sometimes this requires action fatal to the threatening creatures.

Even if the killing of pests is seen as wrong despite the self-defense argument, we can argue that crop agriculture should be preferred over animal agriculture because it involves the minimization of the required killing of pests (for reasons described in question #57).

Possibly overshadowing these moral arguments, however, is the argument that the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides is not only not necessary but extremely damaging to the planet, and should therefore be avoided. Let us first look at the issue of necessity, followed by the issue of environmental damage.

David Cowles-Hamar writes: "For thousands of years, peoples all over the world have used farming methods based on natural ecosystems where potential pest populations are self-regulating. These ideas are now being explored in organic farming and permaculture." Michael W. Fox writes: "Integrated pest management and better conservation of wilderness areas around crop lands in order to provide natural predators for crop pests are more ecologically sensible alternatives to the continuous use of pesticides." The point is that there are effective alternatives to the agrichemical treadmill.

In addition to the agricultural methods described above, many pest problems can be prevented, certainly the most effective approach. For example, some major pest threats are the result of accidental or intentional human introduction of animals into a habitat. We need to be more careful in this regard. Another example is the use of rodenticides. More effective and less harmful to the environment would be an approach that relies on maintenance of clean conditions, plugging of entry holes, and nonlethal trapping followed by release into the wild.

The effects of the intensive use of agrichemicals on the environment are very serious. It results in nation-wide ground water pollution. It results in the deaths of beneficial non-target species. The development of resistant strains requires the use of stronger chemicals with resulting more serious effects on the environment. Agrichemicals are generally more highly concentrated in animal products than in vegetables. It is thus enlightened self-interest to eschew animal consumption!

Organic farming and related methods eschew agrichemicals in favor of natural, sustainable methods. --DG

SEE ALSO: #57-#58

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