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The inhumane nature of factory farming is well-documented, but what is the solution?
Can't we continue eating meat and other animal products and just treat the animals humanely?
No, for two reasons:
- According to Animal Equality over fifty-six billion land animals are killed for human consumption every year worldwide. This number doesn't include sea creatures. Humans eat far too many animals and animal products for the animals to all live on idyllic rambling farms, making "humane farming" almost impossible to achieve. A single battery hen building can hold over 100,000 hens in cages stacked on top of each other. How many square miles of land would be required to humanely raise 100,000 chickens so that they can establish separate flocks with their own pecking orders? Now multiply that number by 3,000, because there are 300 million egg-laying hens in the US, approximately one per person. And that's just the egg-laying chickens.
- Most importantly, no matter how well the animals are treated, subjugating animals for meat, milk and egg production is antithetical to animal rights.
Shouldn't we reduce suffering where we can?
Yes, we can reduce some suffering by eliminating certain practices in certain areas, but this will not solve the problem. As explained above, we cannot humanely raise nine billion animals. Going vegan is the only solution. Also, keep in mind that some meat, eggs and dairy products are misleadingly marketed as "humane" but offer only marginal improvements over traditional factory farming. These animals are not raised humanely if they are in larger cages, or are taken out of cages only to live in overcrowded barns. And "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron.
What about recent strides in the industry to reduce animal suffering?
In his new book The Humane Economy, Animal Protection 2.0, How Innovators and enlightened consumers are transforming the Lives of Animals, author and animal-rights leader Wayne Pacelle writes about how the demand for change in how the animal farming community does business is having very identifiable changes. People who learn about factory farming are becoming more enlightened, and as they do so, producers must meet their demands. We saw this happen with the veal industry. Pacelle writes: "From 1944 to the late 1980s, American per capita consumption of veal dropped from 8.6 pounds to just 0.3 pounds." When people learned about the cruelty of the veal business, they knew the moral price they paid was higher than the actual price of that restaurant meal. When we know better, we do better. In May 2015, the Humane Society of the United States was in negotiations with Walmart, the world's largest retailer of food, to stop buying their eggs and chickens from farmers who would not voluntarily lose the battery cages. Those producers who did remove the batter cages were the new suppliers, so others had to go on board or be put out of business. This caused Walmart to release a declaration stating:
"There is growing public interest in how food is produced and consumers have questions about whether current practices match their values and expectations about the well-being of farm animals. Animal science plays a central role in guiding these practices , but does not always provide clear direction. Increasingly, animal welfare decisions are being considered through a combination of science and ethics."
This may sound encouraging, but not all applaud the HSUS's efforts to make animals raised for slaughter more comfortable while awaiting their fate. One reason is as mentioned above: no matter how well the animals are treated, subjugating animals for meat, milk and egg production is antithetical to animal rights.
The other reason is if we make factory farming to appear humane, less people will feel the need to explore vegan options. Their moral and ethical reasons for doing so are seemingly moot.
Can't I just go vegetarian?
Going vegetarian is a great step, but consuming eggs and dairy still causes the suffering and deaths of animals, even on small "family farms" where the animals roam freely. When egg-laying hens or dairy cows are too old to be profitable, they are slaughtered for their meat, which is generally considered low quality and used for processed meat products. Male layer chickens are considered worthless because they do not lay eggs and do not have enough muscle to be useful as meat chickens, so they are killed as infants. While still alive, male chicks are ground up for animal feed or fertilizer. Male diary cattle are also considered useless because they do not give milk, and are slaughtered for veal while still very young. Going vegan is the only solution.