Members of Western society should understand the full implications of meat consumption and how factory farming effects animals, our health, our environment, and workers employed in the industry.
From a philosophical perspective, we have free will to choose what we eat, but no one, including ourselves, is free from the consequences of our dietary decisions.
Effect on Animals
Do animals feel pain? We can answer this question based on two criteria:
- Observable, neurological, physiological, and/or behavioral response to painful stimulus (nociception)
- Unobservable, yet conscious, subjective experience of pain
The biological structures and processes of nociception are present in both human and animal species, however, a biological basis for conscious experience in either humans or animals has not been found. If we question the existence of consciousness in animals we must question our own consciousness. This is absurd. We must be conscious to deny conscious experience.
Therefore, the lack of objective evidence for consciousness in animals does not eliminate the possibility that they are conscious. If it did, we would have to question human consciousness according to the same criteria.
Along the same lines, scripture encourages us to reflect on the distinction between humans and animals:
I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth?
If you can bear to watch the video below, you will see examples of beak-trimming and mutilation without anaesthetic, both of which occur in factory farms:
Effect on Humans
Modern factory farming aims to increase the efficiency of producing meat, milk, and eggs by confining animals in unnatural, high density environments. In these intensive environments, manual feeding, cleaning, and care of animals does not occur. Instead, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) restrict movement and administer large amounts of vitamin supplements, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and vaccines.
H.R. 1150: Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2013 lists a tremendous amount of evidence to conclude that the use of antibiotics in factory farming leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In 2009, the total estimated health care cost of antibiotic resistant infections in the United States was between $16-26 billion annually.
“Factory farming systems contribute to disease outbreaks in several ways. They keep animals in cramped and often unsanitary quarters, providing a breeding ground for diseases; they feed animals grain-heavy diets that lack the nutrients needed to fight off disease and illness; and many CAFOs feed animals antibiotics as a preventative rather than a therapeutic measure, causing the animals—and the humans who consume them—to develop resistance to antibiotics.”
Disease and Drought Curb Meat Production and Consumption
“… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.”
Effect on the Environment
Intensive factory farming requires intensive agriculture. This method of agriculture produces harmful effects to the environment, such as deforestation, unsustainable land and water use, pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer manufacture and use, as well as soil, water, and air pollution, to name a few.
“Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food andAgriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle,buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 milliontons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent
of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”
—Livestock and Climate Change
Effect on Workers
“Working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, the laborers were forced to live in plastic shanties with no beds or sanitary provision. Water for washing, cooking and drinking came from a cattle watering hole and was stored in barrels previously used for diesel oil and lubricants. There was no opportunity to leave the farm. Goods had to be bought from the farm shop at extortionate prices, putting laborers into ever-increasing debt, which they would never be able to pay off—a form of slavery known as debt bondage.”
—Factory farming (labor)
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), farms on which animals are intensively reared can cause adverse health reactions in farm workers. Workers may develop acute and chronic lung disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and may catch infections that transmit from animals to human beings (such as tuberculosis).”
—Factory farming (labor)
References and Further Reading
- Animal Consciousness, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- “Pain in animals.” Wikipedia. 5 October 2013
- “New evidence of animal consciousness”. Animal Cognition. 5 December 2003
- “CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.” Union of Concerned Scientists. April 2008
- “Factory Farming and the Environment.” Compassion in World Farming Trust. October 1999
- “The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security: an extended literature review.” Compassion in World Farming. February 2012.
- “American Farmers Say They Feed The World, But Do They?” National Public Radio. 17 September 17 2013
- “Dogs Are People, Too.” New York Times. 5 October 2013
- Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans
- “Antibiotic Overuse on Farms: Is the Opinion Tide Turning?” Wired. 4 November 2013
- “Pharmed Food.” National Public Radio. April – November 2013.
- 12 Reasons You May Never Want To Eat Turkey Again
- The Curious Case of the Exploding Pig Farms, December 2013
- Industrial Meat Bad, Small Farm Good? It’s Not So Simple
- F.D.A. Restricts Antibiotics Use for Livestock
- How Mass-Produced Meat Turned Phosphorus Into Pollution
- The new school of fish
- Eating less meat: Solution to reduce water use?, August 4, 2014
- Among meats, beef has a beefy environmental footprint, July 29 2014
Scripture to Contemplate
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.