Animals have been used for food since the beginning of time. It is fair to say that most people are meat eaters as opposed to the less popular vegetarian/vegan options. Animal rights regarding the food production industry has become an ethical debate globally in recent years and many people have differing opinions on what animal rights should entail.
Farm animal rights came on the scene when Upton Sinclair published his work “The Jungle” in 1906 (McGlone 2001). In his paper McGlone argues that this publication led to the passage of the Humane Slaughter Act which, ironically, ended up covering food safety as opposed to animal rights (McGlone 2001). Several laws have been passed since in attempt (attempts?) to protect animals but these laws are not enough. Wolfson argues in his paper that Western civilization passed laws in the early years of the 19th century to protect animals, but now in recent years a large number of the U.S. States amended these laws regarding farm animals which have now left them unprotected (Wolfson 1995).
Currently the laws of many of these states that have been amended accepts “common” and “normal” farm practices as legal no matter how barbaric they may be. Some of these barbaric practices the United States is most commonly criticized for are veal systems, confinement hogs, and the laying hen (Swanson 1995). The United States has very little (few?) laws that attempt to regulate farm animal rights and welfare when compared to the European nations (Croney and Millman, 2007). In fact, the United States has been criticized for certain food production techniques it uses because of its inability to allow these animals to meet their behavioral needs (Croney and Millman, 2007). In the case of animals used for food production, we coin (either we “call this” or “we coin the term”) this “animal exploitation”. As any act does, animal exploitation has consequences. One of these consequences includes pain, suffering, discomfort, and isolation of animals (Blackorby and Donaldson, 1992).
People may ask themselves why now after hundreds of years of animals being used for food is there a sudden need for changes in this industry and in animal exploitation. Rollin helps to explain this phenomenon in his paper. Here he explains how the food production industry has changed over the past 50 years. He goes on to explain that meat agriculture started as a good husbandry practice where what was good for the animals was, in turn, good for the farmers but now with the demand for increased production what ends up being good for the farmers is less space, food, and freedom (essentially less overhead) spent on the animals and thus less good for the animals (Rollin). So where is this increased demand for meat production coming from? One source states that the average meat consumer in the United States eats 112 kilograms (approximately 247 lbs.) of meat per year and global meat production has quadrupled since 1950 while the population has only doubled (Emel and Wolch, 1998).
It is no surprise now that ultimately the interest of the business and the consumer takes precedence over the animal’s rights, but to what end? Estimations show that 95% of sows in the United States are housed in confinement, mostly of which is gestation crates (Bowman et. al., 1996). Gestation crates limit pigs to such a confined area they are unable to even turn around, and sometimes so small they are unable to fully lay down without their legs protruding into another occupied gestation crate. Laying hen confinement proposes (is “proposes the right word here?) similar issues. For example, laying hens are in such confined conditions they are unable spread their wings, much less express their normal foraging and nesting behaviors (Croney and Millman, 2007). Yet another horrific and accepted practice in the United States is that of veal calves. The calves are housed in such confinement they are also unable to turn around, stretch, and sometimes even unable lie down the entirety of their life. The goal of this process is to minimize muscle growth to in turn provide a “tender” meat for the consumer. The claves (calves) are fed diets commonly lacking nutrients such as iron which also help to keep the meat tender, thus causing the calves to suffer from anemia or malnutrition. At what point do we stop to realize that human pleasures should not outweigh animal welfare at any cost? (Even if I agree with you (& I do) you should perhaps begin to apply the ethical theories that judge these activities immoral. And, on the other side, there may be perspectives that would hold that there is nothing wrong with being efficient and that those animals are going to be food anyway so why not be efficient about it?)
This ethical question obviously raises some dilemmas. First, we must decide if animal welfare in the food production industry should have any impact on our choices as a meat consumer. If so, one must be willing to make some changes in his/her lives to support such choices. These said changes may include but are not limited to, higher costs of meats, decreased consumption of meat, willingness to support legislation demanding humane care of animals in the food production industry, etc. One source acknowledges that our decision to use animals in food production, even though the animal’s welfare may be compromised, is proof that the human population does not make ethical decisions from our morals alone but that we weigh the costs/benefits we may incur and then make a decision that best suits us (Bennett et al., 2001). (Isn’t that the essence of utilitarianism? Don’t the ends justify (that is, make moral) the means?) Maybe it is time to make decisions that do not exploit others for our full benefit. With several changes, we could dramatically change the food production industry for the better.
Using the facts stated above, we will begin to consider this dilemma using several ethical principles. First, let us take into account Kant’s Moral Theory. In this perspective, Kant looks at the intent and not at the consequences (MacKinnon). Kant believes that if someone’s moral intent is good then the act is good, regardless of what consequences may follow. Kant also considers animals to be sentient beings, which translates to animals having the capability to sense things and have feelings. One would argue that because animals are considered sentient and are able to feel, don’t they deserve rights as all of us do? Suppose my intent is to provide meat (protein) to people at the most reasonable cost so that even the poor people can afford it? With such a good motive would Kant still disapprove? Examine the ethical theory more closely and from more than one perspective.
Another widely used ethical principle to consider is utilitarianism. People who follow utilitarianism focus on the consequences of the act rather than the intent. For instance, even intent of malice that leads to positive consequences is considered ethical. Utilitarianism uses a cost/benefit analysis to try a mathematical approach to answer ethical dilemmas by measuring utility. In our case the mathematical approach would be to weigh the pleasure of humans consuming meat vs. the pain and suffering of the animals. If we are concerned solely on the human race, then yes it would be agreed that human pleasure outweighs animal suffering. This being said, many Utilitarian followers (and founder of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham) consider animals to be sentient beings therefore their interests must be factored into this mathematical equation (Croney and Millman, 2007). If we factor these animals in we can undoubtedly admit that there are copious amounts of animals that have, will, or are currently giving their lives to the cause of food production with limited to no rights. When we add the animals to the equation, what do we end with? Will the equation still lean in the favor of humans eating meat from animals without any rights? How about a utilitarian with an anthropocentric point of view?
Still another ethical principle we must look into is that of social contract. Social contract theory believes that our ethics of morals is derived from laws. An example of this would be a person shoplifting. Because he is breaking certain rules that have been set in place, he is acting unethically. One of the most famous followers of social contract, Jacques Rousseau, argues because of our shared evolutionary heritage with animals, they deserve rights just as we do (Croney and Millman, 2007).
Several commonly used ethical principles negate the idea that animals should have rights. One such principle is virtue ethics. This principle was founded by Aristotle who believed that animals are put on this earth solely for human pleasure, and thus should be used as such. Virtue ethics has to do with finding the virtuous mean between two extremes. You are attributing anthropocentric views to Aristotle which he may have had but which don’t seem connected to virtue ethics. Another negating principle is found in religious ethics. Many religions believe that animals were created by God for human use. One religion with an opposing opinion is Buddhism where their followers are expected to take into account animals and their interest (Croney and Millman, 2007). Another opposing opinion would be found in anthropocentrism. This ethic principle puts the human race above all others and looks solely to the greatest benefit for humans to answer what is ethical.
After considering all the above ethical approaches, I believe a mixture between Kant’s Moral Theory and Utilitarianism as the best way to currently address this issue. While animal rights and should be important, we obviously realize human happiness is also important. Animals should absolutely have rights. This being said, these rights should fall within limitations. (Now get virtue ethics involved! Those limitations will define the virtuous mean between efficiency and vegetarianism.) It is not fair for laws to force every consumer to the vegetarian option, so below I will make a case for what should be done now to begin moving in the more ethical direction. First and foremost, transparency in the food production industry should become law. This means when a consumer goes to purchase eggs or ground beef, they should be able to read on the label exactly what conditions this product was harvested under. The consumer should be able to make a clear choice between two options by looking at labels that may read “raised in laying hen cages” vs. “raised free range”. This gives the consumer the opportunity to make a decision on what product they may wish to buy without being oblivious to the conditions tomorrow night’s meal was subjected to. People should also be able to readily access and research conditions from which their meat was harvested under. For example, if one reads that their bacon was harvested from pigs that were raised in gestation crates, they should be able to easily find out what this means without some cover-up conspiracy set out by the meat industry to try and hide their true practices. After all as the old saying goes, if you have to lie about it you probably shouldn’t be doing it. I believe in the morality and compassion of humans and believe that if people know exactly what is going on in this industry, they will fight for what they believe to be morally acceptable.
Second, we humans should attempt to assess what a true portion of meat really is. If the entirety of the human race could reduce the amount of meat consumed by even one to two meals a day, this would be great progress into lowering the demand for meat from the food production industry. As discussed in a previous section of this paper, United States meat consumers are eating on average 247 lbs. of meat per year. This is entirely too much. No wonder the food production industry is having a difficult time keeping up with production. If we all decrease our meat intake even a little, we can help work the food production industry back to a time where good husbandry practices were all a farm needed to stay afloat and mass production was not needed.
Finally, the last action needed is to grant animals in the food production industry more rights. These rights should fall under an umbrella of protection including minimum space requirements per animal to live in, suitable treatment of animals in slaughter, nutritious foods throughout the life of the animal, and no farming practices accepted unless they permit the natural behaviors of animals (i.e. nesting and foraging for hens) which will in turn reduce stress and anxiety.
While most would agree that the above conditions are acceptable, there are many who will have objections. One of these objections will include cost of meat going up for increased farm production standards. While this is a reality, the actions asked from this paper will allow people to compare how much money they would like to spend versus the conditions their meat was harvested under. This will help alleviate meat products from becoming only a delicacy of the upper and middle classes.
Another objection to this will be what happens to farmers in the meat production industry once better conditions are required and meat is not being consumed as much. These farmers will be able to return to a more natural way of farming where it isn’t always about the most bacon or the largest number of turkey breasts making it back to the store. While they may not be bringing in the “big bucks” as they once were, they will be able to make an honest living and the animals will have better quality of life until they are harvested and used for our benefit. Either way it is a win-win situation. (The downfall of the scheme may be that meats will be imported from foreign countries without such humane laws and the home country’s farmers will lose out.)
If everyone could take into account these recommendations and attempt to implement them into their lives we could make the world for animals a much better place. It is my belief that animals in the food production industry are on this earth for nutritional benefit, but not at all costs. Just because food production animals make a delectable dinner does not mean we as cognitive and rational beings should throw animal suffering to the wayside. We should help make these animals lives as stress free and normal as possible until it is time to harvest them for our consumption. After all, if they are going to give their bodies to us, why wouldn’t we make their lifetime as pain free as possible?