With the upcoming farm bill that could determine the fate of lots of animals, it’s time to question our consumption of meat. The farm bill could contain protection for animals, or it could continue to sanction the horrific mistreatment that is rampant. Traditionally, it’s been liberals who have advocated for animals, but it doesn’t have to be that way — Matthew Scully, a speech writer for Trump, wrote an entire book denouncing cruelty towards animals.
As a philosophy major, I read lots of philosophical disputes about various topics. For nearly every opinion, no matter how crazy, there’s at least one philosopher who defends it — one philosopher even argues that all statements are true; not just some of them, all of them! Now, one would expect that eating meat falls in this category — a controversial topic that philosophers disagree about.
And they sort of do. They disagree about whether animals have rights, whether it’s okay to eat animals with great lives, and so on. But there is only one major philosopher who defends current farming conditions, and he doesn’t think animal suffering is bad at all. By his logic, it’s not bad when cats are set on fire, unless it bothers humans or makes us more likely to hurt humans. No one defends current farming practices because, considered philosophically, they’re utterly indefensible.
Suppose you’re choosing between two options. One option will produce a bit more enjoyment for you, but it requires enormous amounts of unnecessary suffering. Of course, most of us would agree that we should, in that case, take the other option — the one that doesn’t cause tons of extra suffering for the sake of trivial benefits. But this is the choice that we make every time we decide whether to eat meat versus plants. Eating meat causes tons of extra suffering for the sake of mere taste pleasure, but taste pleasure does not justify enormous cruelty — just as it would be impermissible to be cruel to animals for the sake of a pleasant smell or a pleasant sound, so too is it impermissible for the sake of a pleasant taste.
Why does eating meat cause tons of suffering to animals? Well, the animals you eat are treated terribly before they’re slaughtered. And the greatest culprit of the abuse? Factory farms. 99 percent of meat in the U.S. comes from factory farms; thus, if you purchase meat, it is almost certainly coming from one.
I haven’t time to describe in detail the practices of all meat-producing factory farms, but they’re all similarly cruel (if you’re interested in reading a full account of their wrongdoing, you can do so here).
Let me merely describe what happens in the pig industry. Factory-farmed pigs, while pregnant, are stuffed in tiny gestation crates, unable to turn around. These pigs will never be able to lie down comfortably over the course of their entire lives.
Male pigs are castrated with no anesthetic.
They also have their tails ripped out without anesthetic. Their teeth are also ripped out with no anesthetic. This is admitted to by the industry, and it isn’t bothered by it.
A full 80 percent of pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter. This is because they spend their whole lives living in ammonia and feces — two terrible smelling substances despite their sense of smell, which is far more acute than humans.
Pigs that are too small to grow properly are useless to the industry. As a result, farmers grab them by their hind legs and smash them against the concrete until they die — this is completely legal. It even happens at supposedly high-welfare farms.
Pigs never get to turn around, spend time outside, or see the sun, except immediately before slaughter.
This is just a small sample of the horrors of the pig industry. And the other industries are similarly cruel. When consumers buy food from this industry, they support and enable the continuity of its practices. Thus, eating meat causes lots of animal cruelty — weeks of suffering from the average purchase — and is seriously wrong.
People will point out that plant agriculture kills animals; this is true. However, animal agriculture kills far more animals — partly because we need to feed plants to the animals on factory farms. Animal farming kills between eleven and 152 times, depending on the industry, the number of organisms that plant farming does.
People may worry about the health effects, but studies have consistently found that vegans have better health overall. This isn’t just because vegans are more health conscious — if you randomly select people, make half go vegan and half not, the ones who go vegan have better health.
Ultimately, there are lots of things people say about meat. But none of it justifies what we do now — there’s a reason there exist virtually zero philosophers defending eating meat in current conditions. Perhaps the hypothetical happy cow can be eaten permissibly, but when nearly all animals live short, miserable existences, animals must, for now, be off the menu.