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NYT Has an Epiphany

Because we all spend a greater-than-average amount of time thinking, reading, writing and talking about issues related to sentient nonhumans, when someone says: "What’s wrong with drinking cow’s milk" or "It doesn’t pay for farmers to abuse their animals, they’d never do that," I understand the temptation to say, "Where have you been?"

However, when what is still considered by some to be the newspaper of record, which has reported on factory farming many times and has been a platform for factory-farming critic, Michael Pollan, has an epiphany  like:

In short, animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse. Manure — traditionally a source of fertilizer — has been turned into toxic waste that fouls the air and adjacent water bodies. Crowding creates health problems, resulting in the chronic overuse of antibiotics.

  . . . it makes me say: "Where have you been?"

Evidently, the Pew report and "CAFOs Uncovered," by the Union of Concerned Scientists (released in April) were critical to the development of The New York Times editorial board’s opinion about factory farms, and the University of Chicago study and Livestock’s Longshadow, both of which they reported on last year, didn’t make much of an impact. Or maybe the two more recent studies were the tipping point.

"CAFOs Uncovered" is a welfarist’s dream. Its Executive Summary begins:

The livestock industry (including poultry) is vital to our national economy, supplying meat, milk, eggs and other animal products and providing meaningful employment in rural communities.

(Meaningful employment?)

And it ends with policy recommendations such as reducing CAFO subsidies and "Substantial funding for research to improve alternative animal production methods (especially  pasture-based) that are beneficial to the environment, public health, and rural communities."

That last one is particularly amusing, as no research–let along "substantial funding" would be needed. If these welfarists were paying attention, they’d realize that their biggest concerns (not mine–don’t yell at me) are all a direct result of intensive farming, and all they’d need to do is stop working that way and their problems would be solved.

Not to let the Pew report go without commentary, I always cringe when I read something like:

The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and  damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food (viii).

We wouldn’t want to cause any unnecessary harm.

The Pew report’s conclusion states:

While industrial farm animal production has benefits, it brings with it growing concerns for public health, the environment, animal welfare, and impact on rural communities (19).

My favorite line of all, on page 43, is: "Unfortunately, it can be difficult to define what actually constitutes a decent life for animals because doing so includes both ethical (value-based) and scientific (empirical) components."

How about this: if you wouldn’t do it to your kid, don’t do it to a sentient nonhuman. Done. What’s so "difficult" about that?

There is talk about the "Five Freedoms" on page 47 that must be read to be believed, as it assumes that they can actually be satisfied by farming. Noticeably, tragically absent, is any discussion of the word "freedom," and what it would mean for farming (probably because farming and freedom are mutually exclusive).

As you might imagine, the Pew report wants "food animals" to be treated well because they will be "healthier and safer for human consumption (38).

It’s so strange to me to read about using sentient nonhumans, treating them like machines, and referring to them as if they’re inanimate objects. And when the editorial ends with, "These are all useful guideposts for the next Congress and a new administration," that doesn’t make me feel any better about the future for sentient nonhumans.

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  1. Bea Elliott #

    I imaginie that even amongst welfarists there is great divide between two end goals….. some desiring the continuation of "happy" "food animals" and those wishing to end the whole nasty meat eating concept – (eventually). These reports aren't conducted or released in any effort to end the property status of farmed animals. Their one track environmental agenda is clear.

    The Sierra Club has a main "Factory Farms" web site – it's extensive with the typical images of hogs in crates and chickens crammed in life-time cages. And one pitiful page mention of "Inhumane Treatment of Farm Animals". Of course their message is to return to "good husbandry". Aside from this, the focus is on the residents with breathing illnesses, tainted water and fly infestations:

    I don't expect anything more from these institutions (yet)….. But I think in time – this constant exposure of the failures of cafo's will hopefully influence more people to re-think their eating habits. Optimistically thinking – maybe then they will be open to plant based foods? By the way, Sierra has a link to Factory Farm Org….. which maps and locates where these cafo's are….. Of course everyone wants to see that their own state is exempt from these offenses – I'm in Florida (one of the least factory farmed states) and I was amazed to see how many of these operations their are…..

    But, on a positive note – Factory Farm has a Meatrix link…. sooner or later environmental woes lead to food choices, the alternatives and then finally, (maybe) to the animals? On the whole, I'm pleased when anything makes the animal/meat industries squirm…..

    May 31, 2008

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