Animal-eaters argue that eating animals is a natural occurrence. We have been doing it for centuries, we have canine teeth, why should we stop now? It’s argued that since animals eat each other, and humans are animals, it is appropriate for humans to eat other animals. Animal rights activists contend that by eating animals, we are encouraging the abuse that is inflicted on them in factory farms and exercising dominion over them, to the point of extinction in some cases. Others even maintain that eating animals is comparable to murder and rape. My own view is a little bit of both. I believe that while eating animals is avoidable, killing them is not.
Jonathan Foer, author of Eating Animals, considers his dog, George, when he writes, “I wouldn’t eat George, because she’s mine. But why wouldn’t I eat a dog I’d never met? Or more to the point, what justification might I have for sparing dogs but eating other animals?” Personally I love dogs, but is it really fair that they are fed gourmet food while other animals are being slaughtered by the thousands every day? What makes them so special? Foer reports that, “…unlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten. Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized annually. This amounts to millions of pounds of meat now being thrown away every year. The simple disposal of these euthanized dogs is an enormous ecological and economic problem." Though I concede that eating euthanized dogs would be helpful to the economy, I still insist that it is a horrifying thought, for most Americans, to eat a dog. Perhaps it is because I have such a personal relationship with dogs, growing up in a society where it’s almost impossible not to encounter a dog. Whereas I haven't had very close contact with most other animals. Foer puts it best when he observes that, “We care most about what’s close to us, and have a remarkably easy time forgetting everything else.".
Foer is insisting that society has turned a blind eye towards animal cruelty. We need to reassess the popular assumption that animals are treated, specifically in factory farms, with respect and, more importantly, with concern for their general well-being. “Like pornography, factory farming is hard to define but easy to identify. In a narrow sense it is a system of industrialized and intensive agriculture in which animals - often housed by the tens or even hundreds of thousands - are genetically engineered, restricted in mobility, and fed unnatural diets…although there are important exceptions, to speak about eating animals today is to speak about factory farming."
Most modern-day factory farms treat animals more like machines to be used to their maximum capacity, rather than living organisms who can experience pain and suffering. In a book titled Ethics of What We Eat, Peter Singer writes, “Professor Bernard Rollin, who has taught veterinary ethics at Colorado State University for almost thirty years, has given a graphic example of how profitability and animal welfare can pull in opposite directions. A veterinarian was visiting a 500-sow, ‘farrow to finish’ swine operation…He noticed that one of the sows in the gestation crates had a hind leg sticking out at an odd angle. When he inquired, he was told, ‘She broke her leg yesterday, and she’s due to farrow next week. We’ll let her farrow in here, and then we’ll shoot her and foster off her pigs.’ The vet was troubled by the idea of leaving the sow for a week with a broken leg and offered to put the leg in a splint, charging only the cost of his materials. He was told that the operation could not afford the manpower involved in separating and caring for the sow." In giving this example, Singer is illustrating how profitability and competition has corrupted these factory farms, and caused farmers to devote more attention to cost versus profit, rather than the animals general well-being.
Singer affirms that, “As long as the market provides no incentive for reducing the pigs’ pain, the pig producer cannot afford to spend more than a penny, or perhaps a nickel, for that purpose. If he does, someone else who won’t spend anything to reduce pain will produce cheaper pigs and put him out of business…The core issue is the commercial pressures that exist in a competitive market system in which animals are items of property, and the conditions in which they are kept are not regulated by federal or state animal-welfare law.". Those unfamiliar with this school of thought may be interested to know that it basically boils down to state or federal regulation. If everyone is required by law to follow a specific set of guidelines for the general well-being of the animals they care for and slaughter, then the edge will be taken off of this detrimental competition.
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, believes the practice of eating animals to be absolutely atrocious. He claims that, “It may be that our moral enlightenment has advanced to the point where the practice of eating animals - like our former practices of keeping slaves or treating women as inferior beings - can now be seen for the barbarity it is, a relic of an ignorant past that very soon will fill us with shame." Although I agree with Pollan up to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that eating animals is comparable to slavery or sexism towards women. I believe that animals definitely need to be treated with more dignity and respect, but death is a part of life. Simply the practice eating animals is not the atrocity, it is the way they are treated before they are killed that is the atrocity.
Pollan offers an excellent solution to those who are unsure of how they feel about eating meat. He writes, “…sometimes I think all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFOs, and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look. No doubt some of these places would turn many people into vegetarians. Many others would look elsewhere for their meat, to farmers willing to raise and kill their animals transparently." The essence of Pollan’s argument is that we simply need to become more informed of the cruelty that goes on in these places, and then decide for ourselves what we believe needs to be changed, and what we deem to be ethical, or unethical.