Today, nearing the end of March in the year 2016 we head towards new records in almost every industry and sector of the economy. Considering our earths ever-growing population, we must allow our production to grow with it, to account for all our consumers. With the population now at an astounding seven billion, we must ensure that our business’ can meet the demand of all these individuals. This means bigger factories, quicker production, and optimized efficiency. Though this business plan sounds smart and effective for mass production, what does it really mean? Sure we can create and manufacture products at record speeds, but can we ensure the integrity and reliability of our product and means of production a hundred percent of the time? And if not, what does that mean for our farming industry? In this post we will take look into factory farming and its effects on animal welfare, as well as the environmental harms that come along with it.
We will start this journey following our feathery friends, and see what factory farming looks like through the eyes of a chicken. We will focus on this animal in particular for its popularity in America, as well as my own consumption of meat consists primarily of chicken. Inspired by a book I have recently read, titled The Ethics of What We Eat,
I wan to restate some facts that I have learned for both my readers and myself. In the U.S. roughly ten billion land animals are slaughtered for consumption every year, ninety-five percent of them being chicken so this focus seems to be very relevant. Though we typically, or maybe just me personally envision our chickens coming from pastures, the reality is that “99 percent come from factory farm production” (Singer & Mason: 21). Unfortunately for the chicken these farms are not the ones we read about in kindergarten, where everything is hunky-dory. No they tend to resemble inhumane prisons, where every inmate nervously waits for his/her turn in the electric chair. According to Singer and Mason the confines of these individual cells are “96 square inches, or the size of a standard sheet of American 8.5-inch x 11 inch typing paper” (Singer & Mason: 23). Now we must picture 30,000 chickens all bunched up in a shed no bigger than 490 feet long and 45 feet wide (Singer & Mason: 23). Then add an abundant amount of ammonia to the air, from the feces, and cruel caretakers and we have a pretty accurate depiction of today’s chicken farming industry.
The obvious concern her is the animal welfare, and the care for another living entity other than ourselves. The problem I believe is the manner in which we approach the subject. Yes there is a demand for chicken, but does it deserve to be categorized as any other product on the market? Some would argue yes, that it is a commodity and a resource, and as anthropocentric individuals we have a right to exploit that commodity and produce it in quantities that we see fit. From the words of Singer and Mason it seems as though we have desensitized both the producer and consumer to animal slaughtering, and in many cases cruelty. In the consumer’s defense though, this is all out of sight and therefore out of mind, and with effective packaging and marketing we almost forget the animals were ever even alive in the first place. But this ignorance does not shield our moral obligations to the other living creatures that inhabit this planet with us. Yes, I do love to eat chicken, but I cannot stand for seeing chicken as another resource traded on the stock market. This disconnection from the earth and living creatures will ultimately be our demise, and I struggle to see a solution in a capitalist driven society.
Not only do these horrendous acts have devastating effects on the animals involved, but also lets not forget about the effects it has on Mother Nature herself. A case brought up in the book discussed a chicken farm in Delmarva Peninsula, where 600 million chickens were raised each year. These chickens produced more manure than a city of four million people, and instead of getting processed like human waste, chicken manure is spread in fields that cannot absorb that much nitrogen. Consequently, the nitrogen finds itself in streams, groundwater and underground aquifers used for drinking water. This has resulted in dead zones in the bay, which can stretch for a 100 miles. (Singer & Mason: 29-30)
These factory farms or CAFO’s are also proven to be detrimental to air quality, as well as the water, land, biodiversity, and even the climate. One would think that with this many negative effects someone would draw a line or dismantle the operation all together. But it comes back to the same thinking that started the problem in the first place, our anthropocentric ignorance. We see all viable resources as ours for the taking, it just all depends on how quick and efficiently we can take them. That being said any negative effects resulting from our production are simply externalities, meaning that it’s not the business’ problem. So since no one can be accountable 100 percent for these devastations, what would ever stop us from doing what were doing?
I think the only solution according to Mason and Singer would be our moral obligation to the earth as well as to ourselves. If we continue to act in these ways there is no foreseeable future for us, or a healthy planet down the road. With these actions we have put an undeniable expiration date on the planets existence, as well as our own. Though if we can find sympathy for others, and a responsibility to earth, and its inhabitants to act fair and responsible, we may one day be sustainable in our consuming and caring of our animal friends.