Awareness — and disgust — of factory farming is becoming more and more mainstream. If you need proof, just consider that last week, two major U.S. newspapers published original pieces condemning the state of animal agriculture today.
One was in the Chicago Tribune. Yes, a paper in the steak capital of America ran a story that wasn’t exactly pro-carnivore. The article was by Tribune reporter Monica Eng, who looked at the true costs of inexpensive meat. She notes how meat prices have dropped due to concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, where thousands of animals are kept in extreme confinement. While Big Ag rejoices at their ability churn out cheap meat and raise corporate profits, Eng quotes Daniel Imhoff, editor of the book CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, who sees things differently: “Cheap is in the eyes of the accountant … Somehow we’ve forgotten how to add the total costs of cheap meat production to our health, environment, the loss of vibrant rural communities with lots of family farms.”
Imhoff is, of course, correct, and Eng documents all the real costs of humanity’s lust for cheap meat. It has a negative impact on people’s health, food safety, the environment, family farming, and animal welfare. That last item is where Eng stumbles a bit, as she barely acknowledges just how abusive and nightmarish the animal torture chambers known as CAFOs really are.
On the other hand, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton, is fully prepared to speak out against the suffering inflicted on animals at factory farms. In a Washington Post editorial, he considers four things about America in the 21st century that future generations will condemn us for. He names our prison system, disregard for the environment, treatment of the elderly, and industrial meat production.
Noting “arguments against the cruelty of factory farming have certainly been around a long time,” Appiah writes, “People who eat factory-farmed bacon or chicken rarely offer a moral justification for what they’re doing. Instead, they try not to think about it too much, shying away from stomach-turning stories about what goes on in our industrial abattoirs.” What type of stories? How about stories of cows “saved from the inevitable diseases of overcrowding only by regular doses of antibiotics, surrounded by piles of their own feces, their nostrils filled with the smell of their own urine.”
These two pieces, published within days of one another, are quite different in tone. Monica Eng’s piece is essentially straight reporting. She doesn’t really address the moral issues involved in factory farming, or the suffering of animals, instead objectively looking at the far-reaching impacts of our current agricultural system. On the other hand, Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote a think piece, and specifically considered moral issues and animal suffering. In some ways, Appiah’s article brought to mind Peter Singers recent piece for Forbes.com, in which he imagined a much better world for animals in 2020 America.
Two different articles in two different papers by two different authors, each with a different approach to the subject at hand. Yet it isn’t the differences that matter; it’s the similarities. Both articles looked at the factory farming of animals in the U.S. Neither of them liked what they saw.
Photo Credit: Mercy for Animals