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Debate: Ban on factory farming

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Should ‘factory farming’ be banned?

Background and context

Agriculture has been part of man’s lift for millennia. ‘Factory farming’ began in the 1920s after the discovery of vitamins A and D; when these vitamins are added to feed, animals no longer require exercise and sunlight for growth. This allowed large numbers of animals to be raised indoors year-round. The problem in raising animals indoors was the spread of disease, which the 1940s development of antibiotics resolved. By using mechanisation and assembly-line techniques, farmers have increased productivity and reduced operating costs – these techniques have been refined in the post-war era to raise production to levels our grandparents would not have believed. Much of the meat we eat today is produced by this method, and so are most of the eggs. Is it right? Is it healthy? Should it be banned?

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Cruel? Is factory farming cruel?

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Yes

Factory farming is cruel: Confinement to the point at which suffocation is commonplace is the norm. Many animals never touch the ground or see direct sunlight. They cannot behave in natural ways: e.g. chickens cannot spread their wings or peck the ground, pigs cannot root or nest. That’s just the normal unpleasantness. The extremes are truly horrible. Chickens are bred selectively and genetically modified until the birds cannot stand up and their bones cannot support their weight. Battery hens are crammed into tiny cages and to stop them doing damage when they attack each other (as they inevitably do in such unnatural conditions) their beaks and toes are cut off. Roosters are killed at birth by strangulation or asphyxiation in a bag. Pigs, highly social animals, are kept singly in cages they can’t turn around in – and a number of diseases are very common because of the cramped conditions. Veal calves are deliberately and permanently squashed so that muscle growth is inhibited and the flesh is tender. They are fed on an iron-deficient diet so their flesh is pale.[1]

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No

There is very little cruelty or suffering in factory farming. Certainly no more than in traditional forms of farming, which is the correct comparison to make (rather than thinking of a ban in a standalone sense) since food will still have to be produced in one way or another. Foie gras has been produced since time immemorial by the force feeding of geese. Animals have always been herded together, confined, branded, killed and eaten. This is not the fault of the modern intensive (or ‘factory’) industry, it’s just the way things are when people eat meat. Furthermore, the large firms responsible for ‘factory’ farming are more easily monitored by law so the animals often fare better than they would have done in normal farming – so it’s not true that factory farming is particularly cruel. What is true is that activists have ensured the few isolated incidents of cruelty or bad practice have received publicity well out of proportion with their significance.[2]

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Quality and value: Is there a good product quality and value associated with factory farmed goods?

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Yes

The meat produced by factory farming is cheap because it is of very low quality: It is ‘mechanically recovered’ (i.e. ripped from the bone by machine at suck force, and then pureed and reconstituted), and parts of the body that most consumers would say shouldn’t be used – lips, eyes, testicles, anal tracts – are included in sausages and patties. The quantity of the meat is enhanced by the industrial process of water injection (this is why your burger shrinks so much when you cook it - the water is evaporating). The animal is often injected with cocktails of drugs and hormones to encourage faster and greater growth, which are then often passed on to you, the eater, in your meal. The animal is fed on foodstuff designed to achieve fast growth rather than a healthy animal. And so on. The apparently low price of industrial food does not reflect the true costs of production. Hidden costs include environmental degradation, fossil fuel use, damage to human health, and the destruction of rural communities. The owners of factory farms do not pay these costs; they are paid by the communities in which these operations are located, by taxpayers, and by society as a whole.[3]

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No

This intensive type of farming brings meat down to a price affordable to the poorest in our community on a regular basis: Historically, classes in industrial societies have always been demarcated not only by wealth but also the consequent effect on diet and health. This was obvious by the most basic of measurements – broadly speaking, richer people have been taller, because they’ve eaten better. Intensive farming has done much to stop that disparity, ensuring that high-protein, nutritious food is available to all at low cost. It’s all very well for the trendy urban middle class to pour scorn on factory farming, but without it, the poor will have an even worse diet. Consumers are much cleverer than you think. They know that the meat they’re eating isn’t the same as traditionally farmed meat, and they choose to buy it nevertheless. They have a right to make that choice.[4]

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Traditional methods: Is "factory farming" damaging the traditional, less invasive ways in which farming is practiced?

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Yes

Factory farming is damaging healthier, traditional farming methods that were more in tune with nature: The countryside as we know and love it was created by traditional farming methods, particularly grazing, not vast sheds full of imprisoned animals fed on imported feed. Health risks to humans are also greatly magnified by factory farming, with epidemics swiftly spread between overcrowded animals and antibiotic resistance encouraged by medicated feed.[5]

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No

All forms of farming have always involved the imposition of artificial, man-made patterns on nature: This is just another part of that. As for farmers losing jobs – there are plenty of people employed in the new process of factory farming – why is that any less worthy? And many farmers have sold off their land for enormous profit.[6]

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Animals as commodities: Is it wrong for animals to be treated like commodities?

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Yes

Factory farming sees animals as ‘products,’ ‘commodities’ for production and sale instead of as life forms that deserve a certain respect and good treatment: But animals are conscious and aware and know pleasure and pain. They shouldn’t be treated like this. Even if we are to continue eating meat, which on a utilitarian judgement may be necessary, we should nevertheless treat them humanely, and with dignity. Factory farming does not. It is true that we are capable of higher thought and animals are not – but this means that we have a duty of stewardship and of care for them – how terribly we fail in fulfilling that duty.[7]

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No

Animal food products is an industry that retains the right to act efficiently: Unless the state is going to impose vegetarianism (and that’s not being proposed here) the business of food will continue, and that business should be efficient and productive like any other – that’s in the interest of the producer, who makes a profit, and the consumer, who gets a low price. Many of these animals exist because we eat them, anyway – pigs, cows, sheep, chickens – all animals that are bred in their millions because we want to eat them. Man should treat man with respect and dignity – but animals are not our equals, don’t have any capacity for higher thought, and can be used for our benefit without any moral problem.[8]

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Environmental effects: Has factory farming been, more generally, bad for the environment?

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Yes

Large-scale beef farming has significantly added to the damage to the ozone layer, as cows and their manure produce vast quantities of methane: It also erodes topsoil at an alarming rate.[9]

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No

Cow-produced methane is not comparable in significance to pollution from big business and industry.[10]

See also

External links

Books:

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