Boycotting Factory Farming is Not the Only Solution to Animal Suffering


Young Dairy Farmer Petting Cow

Photo by Breanne Lywood

Whether you’re a fully-fledged rural homesteader, a sustainability-minded urbanite, or simply a curious consumer, you’ve probably heard bad things about how animals are raised on commercial farms. These things take many forms: a dramatic headline, a farm exposé video, or maybe a comment at a dinner party. What many criticisms of animal production have in common is that they fail to paint the full picture and, more importantly, they fail to offer real solutions.

I’m a student of animal biology. Outside the classroom, my journey through the animal husbandry trade has seen me doing everything from shoveling pungent manure out of a small pig barn to processing feather samples for hormone analysis in a lab. I’ve seen the flaws of the food animal industry firsthand, and it’s true that animals suffer to feed humans. For conscientious and compassionate people, is going vegan the only answer?

Lifestyle Changes are Not a Perfect Solution

If you’re that fully-fledged homesteader, you have the luxury of ample space and resources that allow you to produce your own meat or eggs. If you’re that urbanite, perhaps you have the desire and commitment to live a vegan lifestyle or otherwise source your food entirely from a distant farm, such as through community-supported agriculture. Whether homesteader or vegan or both, I applaud your compassion and dedication, but I have a question for you: What about everybody else?

Many people have spent their entire lives in cities, and don’t have the means to uproot themselves and start a small farm. Veganism is a straightforward solution to food animal suffering that's on the rise, but vegans are still a small proportion of the world's population. 

2/22/2021 10:29:03 AM

Great message, I too believe that animals should be treated with respect, which means they should be able to run in the open and be killed quickly with as little suffering as possible. And it's like you said, educating people is the solution, especially if we start with young children. As a parent, it would not be a bad idea to teach your children to respect nature and animals. That's what my parents taught me, and now I think it's one of the most important things in life.

2/22/2021 8:56:39 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, Stevan! I think you're right, a certain amount of guilt could be productive. That being said, I think real change might better come from a place of appreciation and desire for greater harmony. My last heading could be a bit misleading. Mindful appreciation of food and everything behind it is what I would like to promote.

2/22/2021 5:56:52 AM

CONSCIENCE Causing less killing and suffering is always preferable to causing more. But Jacob has not faced the real ethical question, which is about causing *needless* killing and suffering. An obligate carnivore like a lion has to kill and eat its prey to feed itself and its young; and its prey must fight or flee to save itself or its young. Humans — facultative omnivores — have been both predators and prey throughout their evolutionary history. In the few remaining survival cultures of fishing and hunting it is still not a matter of choice. But modern agriculture and laboratory science have made it a matter of choice for the more prosperous majority of the human population. We can choose to hurt and kill, needlessly, or not. Jacob counsels us to cut back on needless hurting and killing, but to “limit guilt.” Why? He needs to look much, much more deeply at whether this is any different from counselling to cut back on the beating and killing of our slaves. The needless harming and killing of feeling beings (human or nonhuman) is surely the wrong of wrongs. It’s what all morality is about. Is it right to counsel limiting our feeling that it is wrong, to leave us feeling free to keep doing it — and them to keep suffering and dying for it? Stevan Harnad Editor, Animal Sentience

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