Consummate dilettantism!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Industrial Agriculture

I was arguing once with a friend about the morality of factory farming. I said that not eating meat, or eating only "free-range" meat, actually increases the suffering of animals, because a life in the wild is incomparably more brutal than a life in the cage. Support for this assertion comes in the form of a brilliant article in The American that utterly demolishes these "pro-organic" arguments that we've been hearing for years (and that I've been railing against for years):
Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.
And this:
We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.
Oh, and this:
We can do that, and we may be a better society for it, but we can't change nature. Pigs will be allowed to "return to their mire," as Kipling had it, but they'll also be crushed and eaten by their mothers. Chickens will provide lunch to any number of predators, and some number of chickens will die as flocks establish their pecking order.
Go and read the whole thing. While you're at it, check this out:
Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.
Add to that the often extreme inefficiency of organic farming and the utter bankruptcy of the "food miles" argument, and you've got a pretty convincing case that supporting organic food is not only not especially more ethical than not supporting it, but also that in many cases it is actually morally abhorrent.


  1. Wow, why does it offend someone if I want to eat a chicken raised in a larger yard than the average one? Hardly "in the wild." It's the same people who are angry at elitist rich people for affording anything they want, be it a diamond-encrusted bottle of vodka, dining at a restaurant that costs more for one meal than someone employed there makes in a year. I didn't know I could piss people off so badly with my small-scale farming. Thank GOD I'm not doing the right thing - no loft of moral piety - I can sleep better at night!

  2. Obviously the production of meat products, organic or not, is not inherently cruel or wrong, however modern production includes enough egregiously cruel practices that I choose not to support those industries with my $. I wonder if these practices contribute to such employment as being consistently ranked the lowest in employee satisfaction. Certainly the average person does not enjoy this activity, whether actually participating or just being present hence the low rating.