The following is written in response to viewing Peter Singer’s lecture at Wiliams College, entitled “The Ethics of What We Eat.”
The mainstream view about how we should treat animals is that we should be kind and not engage in intentional cruelty. However, in conjunction with that kindness, there is the view that animals are a means to an end (food supply), and that such pro-animal interests are relatively easily overridden by our own interest in a cheap food supply, including meat and egg production.
Modern farming practices in this country are not really compatible with the mainstream view. There is absolutely the parallel objective of creating a cheaper food supply, but most any consumer who was ever truly exposed to the inside of a modern farming or production facility, would be highly unlikely to walk away with anything other than scarring as a result of witnessing such abject cruelty. The reality is that most people in our society do not know how our most common food products are cultivated, and that lack of transparency alone, is very frightening.
Given the foregoing, Singer absolutely argues against eating factory farm products, again citing extreme cruelty, intentional lack of transparency to the end user, and crowded factory conditions. Singer further states that it is inherently wrong to cause pain without reason and suffering that accompanies modern factory farming; when we can nourish ourselves in other ways; that our enjoyment of meat is not enough to justify animal suffering; and that we should stop eating meat from modern production sources.
Beyond animal cruelty, factory farming also has adverse impact upon the environment through water and other pollution. In larger facilities housing literally 10’s of 1000’s of animals, the amount of animal feces runoff is mind boggling. Manure is washed into a “lagoon” of sorts which frequently fail to drain, overflow, and otherwise fail to be treated as intended. This is the cause of large scale river pollution throughout the United States. There is also the pollution effect caused by large scale cattle farming, as cattle are among the largest producers of the greenhouse gas known as methane. In fact methane emissions from farming exceed those from the more frequently blamed transportation industry. Consider this example: Switching from a gas burning car to a hybrid like a Prius, will save a family 1 ton of carbon/year. Switching from a Standard American Diet (modern factory farm-based) to a Vegan diet will save 1.5 tons of carbon/year.
Modern farming also contributes to the problem of world hunger, where grain production and consumption is predominantly aimed at feeding animals who will be slaughtered for food purposes. This forces the price of grain upward on a worldwide basis, and reduces the amount of grain available for consumption by humans. It is far more efficient to feed the world grain instead of animal protein, as it takes about six pounds of grain feed protein to produce one pound of meat protein. Grain is also used for biofuel, such as ethanol, though not to as great an extent as with factory farming. The use of grain in modern factory farming is so prevalent and successful in the United States, that the practice is now being copied in emerging agricultural countries such as China.
Lastly, conscientious omnivorism is the act of retaining one’s choice to continue to eat meat and other products that are also subject of modern farming. In this construct however, the consumer elects to eat only products where the farming practices are more socially conscious, cruelty free, sustainable, and where the attendant duties of care to the animals are being met. While not the perfect ideal, Singer does not categorize such effort as a very good start, a credible switch away from the horrors of consuming modern farmed goods.
- Singer, P. “The Ethics of What We Eat” (n.d) Lecture at Williams College,
Williamstown, MA. Web 12 July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHzwqf_JkrA>