Undercover investigations reveal what chickens, pigs, and cows are made to endure on factory farms.
These animals have their beaks, tails, testicles, and horns cut off or seared off without any pain relief. For nearly their entire pregnancy, mother pigs are kept in cages so small that they can’t turn around. Chickens who lay eggs are kept in cages so small that they’re each afforded less than an iPad’s worth of space in which to live out their lives. After being forced to become pregnant, mother cows on dairies and mother pigs are prematurely separated from their babies. And all the animals are killed at a fraction of their natural lives.
When people become aware of these things, it’s no surprise that they start looking for alternatives.
One alternative is to quit eating animals.
But even though this alternative can be healthy and less expensive than eating factory farmed animals, some think it goes too far. After all, they think, not all animals are factory farmed.
I once thought I could take moral cover under the notion that there are farms where animals are raised and killed humanely. But as I thought more about it, I found it harder to understand.
Take the notion of humane killing.
We’re led by producers to think all that’s required for killing to be humane is that it’s done as painlessly as possible. But is that right?
Consider a fairly uncontroversial case of humane killing. Take the case of a companion animal who has been killed humanely.
It’s important, no doubt, that the killing be done as painlessly as possible. But it’s also important that the animal be sick and that she isn’t likely to get better. It’s important that she’s suffering and that ending her life will help to alleviate her suffering. It’s important that when we decide to end her life, we consider whether it would be best for her to die. We should ask, for instance, whether her good days are outnumbered by her bad days. And when we end her life it’s important that we do it for her sake.
As a way to see that these things are important, consider an example in which they’re absent.
Suppose that my cat, Bubs, is perfectly healthy, that he’s not suffering at all, and that his bad days are far outnumbered by his good days. Suppose I decide to have him killed nevertheless, perhaps because I’m going on vacation and I can’t find anyone to watch him while I’m gone.
It’s hard for me to see how doing what I do here could be thought of as humane. And it wouldn’t help to know that I had Bubs killed as painlessly as possible. Part of the trouble is that I’m thinking here only of what’s good for me. I’m giving no serious thought to what’s good for Bubs.
Keeping this in mind, let’s return to our consideration of killing farmed animals.
We’re told the chickens, pigs, and cows raised on small farms aren’t sick. We’re told they aren’t suffering. We’re told their good days far outnumber their bad days. What this means, though, is that it isn’t in their interest to die.
Killing farmed animals may be good for producers and for us if we eat them. But it isn’t what’s good for the animals themselves.
In view of our considerations above, it’s hard to think of this as humane.
There are more controversial cases of humane killing that may seem to provide a model for responding to the killing of farmed animals. So-called “problem” animals or animals in shelters who can’t be placed, for instance, may be killed as painlessly as possible even though it isn’t in their interest to die.
But these cases don’t help make sense of what happens on farms.
Farmed animals don’t pose a threat in the way “problem” animals are thought to. And while shelters typically do what they can to keep themselves from having to kill animals, producers have no interest in killing fewer animals. In fact, producers deliberately have animals bred so they can have them killed.
These differences make a difference.
It’s these considerations that lead me to think I can no longer take moral cover under the notion that farmed animals are humanely killed.
(The photo at the top of this post was taken outside of Lorentz Meats, a slaughterhouse I toured in Cannon Falls, MN earlier this year. I will post about that tour soon.)