The List: A Work in Progress

Everyone likes lists. So here’s my general list of why I think all alternative agricultural systems producing animal products are ultimately unsustainable. Consider it a kind of crib sheet.

1) Although often better than industrial systems, they aren’t as environmentally sustainable as plant-based systems.

2) As in industrial agriculture, they commodify animals and, in turn, objectify them, thereby denying their intrinsic value–something enlightened consumers claim to care about.

3) By supporting the consumption of animal products, they indirectly (but powerfully) support the most essential prerequisite for factory farming: the idea that it’s okay to eat animals.

4) Sustainable animal agriculture relies on a set of ideas and slogans that not only obscure objections 1-3, but lend themselves to being co-opted by industry (which, of course, has bigger advertising budgets).

5) Killing animals unnecessarily is not only ethically problematic, but it’s psychologically unhealthy for those who do the slaughtering. Doesn’t it make sense to think that the less that intentional suffering is present, the healthier a community will be?

Feel free to add on.


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

5 Responses to The List: A Work in Progress

  1. CQ says:

    Good start, James.

    In #5, it might be clearer to say “…intentionally-caused suffering…” because no one suffers intentionally, except masochists, and animals are not that! 🙂

    Where’s the point you’ve made elsewhere, the one in which you insist that the more so-called sustainable farms there are, the more pressure there will be to complete, which means reducing prices, which means cutting expenses, which means cutting corners — which lands the animals right back in the conditions they were supposedly being spared from, removed from!

    An example of how the animals’ real needs are ultimately inconsequential even in the most idyllic of animal-exploiting establishments:

  2. Provoked says:

    Number 5 is the most powerful motivator for me… I can’t imagine a psychologically/emotionally healthy community that exists with *any* blood shed let alone for frivolous, gustatory pleasure.

    And CQ that article about the “sustainable/free range” farm girl now confining hens is so telling. Given enough time I’m positive she would graduate those birds into big warehouses and off their heads at “production” driven facilities. Everything James has said thus far about small-scale inevitably becoming larger (and worse) for the animals is true!

  3. keithakers says:

    I wouldn’t even concede the “although” clause in reason #1. The idea that “alternative” systems are “better” than industrial systems relies heavily on the unnaturalness of factory farms. But range-fed cows are less sustainable than feedlot cows: more methane produced, more land area occupied, more biodiversity destroyed, more soil erosion, and so forth.

    The whole point of factory farms is “efficiency,” and while efficiency means it’s less humane, it does conserve something, and what it conserves is resources. Similarly with chickens, pigs, etc.; the nicer you are to them, the more space and food they take up — as perfectly exemplified in CQ’s link above. The logic embedded in Hazeltree Farm (CQ’s link above) leads inevitably to factory farming.

  4. CQ says:

    Thinking about what Keith says in his first graph reminds me of an interview I read last night with Vas Stanescu:

    See, in particular, the graph that starts: “Two other important points about “humane” farming and locavorism….” and the graph directly beneath that one.

    Also I read his and found pp 6-8 and 21-22 especially apt.

    And somewhere (is it in one of these Stanescu’s pieces or elsewhere?) I read that we can’t compare today’s pasture-raised animals to those we romantically envision from days of yore. The technology that allows farmers to manipulate the poor animals and their levels of output makes such a comparison like apples and oranges. They used to be allowed to live (and hang out with their families) for many years before slaughter instead of a few short months. Where DID I read that?

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