#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
#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?
A Farming Story --
Bible on Vegetarianism --
Designed For Meat? --
-- New Vegetarians -- Compassionate
Vegans -- Meat
7 Reasons Why
We Have Not "Evolved" To Eat Meat
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
#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
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
#32, #48, #50
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
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
Dairy farming also qualifies as factory-farming. Here are some salient
* 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
#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.
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
#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
#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."
#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
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
#55 Can't we just
eat free-range products?
"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
#13, #49-#50, #52
#56 Anything wrong
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
#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
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
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
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
#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
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