May The Factory Farms Burn
Factory farming is the worst crime in history
The Horrors of the Meat Industry
“From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.”
—M. Frida Hartley
A warning: this article is long and describes the horrors of factory farms. It is long because the pandora’s box of horrors is so immense, so extreme, that even describing a minuscule portion of them requires an extremely lengthy article. It describes the horrors of factory farming because you ought to know them. If you are actively contributing to a particular cruelty—as is true of most Americans and most readers—you deserve to know exactly what you’re causing. Let it be said no more that you did not know what you were doing.
Philosophy is often thought of as comprised purely of difficult questions. It poses numerous complex questions—questions about ethics, epistemology, and various other topics that are difficult to figure out. But some philosophical questions are not difficult—and among the easiest of existing questions is whether eating meat is permissible. It is as close to a no-brainer as you get in normative ethics. The way that we treat animals is utterly appalling—a hideous blot on the morality of supposedly enlightened societies. The question we face is whether we should torture billions of sentient beings before killing them because we like the taste of their flesh—whether we should inflict unfathomable, unimaginable torture—torture that causes most of the world’s misery, death, and despair—for the sake of trivial gustatory pleasure.
Whether pigs should be roasted to death, hot steam choking and burning them to death. Whether pigs who are smarter than dogs should be forced to give birth in tiny crates where they can’t move around. Whether they should be castrated with no anesthetic, have their tails and teeth cut off with a sharp object and no anesthetic, whether parts of their ears should be cut off for identification purposes, cruelly cramped together during transport1 unable to stand or move around, and whether they should have a knife dragged across their throat. All of these are the price we pay for cheap pig flesh.
Whether chickens should be hung upside down by one leg before being brought on a conveyor to a knife being dragged across their throat—the only saving grace being an error prone electric bath that knocks them unconscious; sometimes. Of course, the combination of blade and electric bath is sufficiently error-prone to boil to death half a million or so sentient beings every year. It becomes abundantly clear that we’re acting horrendously when animal advocates are hoping that we’ll gas animals to death—kill them the way the Nazis did, for the ways we do it now are far crueler. Whether chickens should be crammed in a space far smaller than a sheet of paper, living their whole lives without seeing the sun, except in the moments before they’re transferred to their grisly slaughter. We do this to about 80 billion land animals and trillions of sea creatures.
Are cheap eggs worth forcing sentient beings to live in shit, with the smell of feces being the only thing detectable from inside the barn—aside from ammonia, one of the worst smelling substances, which covers the barn because it’s cheaper than cleaning it? Forcing sentient beings to get osteoporosis and heart disease, all in an attempt to reduce the cost of eggs. This barrage of shit is not limited to egg-laying hens—it’s why perhaps as many as 80% of pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter2. A life lived in so much shit that it causes pneumonia the vast majority of the time is not how we ought to treat sentient beings. Veterinary care is rarely given to animals who suffer in agony and terror. Mothers are separated from their children at birth, both of whom cry out for days or weeks. 90% of the chickens for meat that you eat can’t walk properly because of genetic manipulation. Chickens were placed into darkness, killing 5-10% of them, all in an attempt to increase their egg laying. Broiler chickens develop horrific diseases and experience unimaginable pain.
Because a large amount of calcium goes into egg production, almost all battery hens suffer from osteoporosis, which is exacerbated by lack of exercise in cages
It’s standard practice in the pork industry to “thump piglets. Thumping is when farmers slam the pigs headfirst into the ground because they won’t meet a size requirement or are sick and deemed a waste.
Farmers use pliers to pull the skin off of live fish. Dozens are crammed into buckets and baskets, gasping for oxygen. They’re often flailing and struggling, trying to escape the workers’ knives.
When they have young, sows are jammed between two rails, so that they cannot turn around and take care of the piglets, only feed them. This is done to prevent the sow from crushing a piglet to death, because of the lack of space. The piglets are brought to the weaning section after the nursing period of only 3 to 4 weeks (instead of the natural 14 weeks). At the age of about 72 days they go to the fattening farm, where 14 of them are put in a sty of 10 m², usually on a grid floor without straw.
More horrors that those of you who eat meat pay for.
The aforementioned Mercy for animals report notes the following
Mother sows confined to barren metal crates barely larger than their own bodies – unable to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
Workers ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets without the use of painkillers
Piglets suffering with herniated intestines, due to botched castration
Conscious piglets having their tails painfully sliced into and yanked off with dull clippers
Large, open, pus-filled wounds and pressure sores
Sick and injured pigs left to languish and slowly die without proper veterinary care
Mother pigs — physically taxed from constant birthing — suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses
Management training workers to throw piglets across the room — comparing it to a "roller coaster ride"
Pollan describes the horrors of modern factory farms — I’ll just quote a few passages.
Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors, albeit standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick.
And broiler chickens, although they do get their beaks snipped off with a hot knife to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement, at least don't spend their eight-week lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ''vices'' that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors, like ''vices'' and ''stress.'' Whatever you want to call what's going on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can't bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production. And when the output of the others begins to ebb, the hens will be ''force-molted'' -- starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life's work is done.
Later he said
Piglets in confinement operations are weaned from their mothers 10 days after birth (compared with 13 weeks in nature) because they gain weight faster on their hormone- and antibiotic-fortified feed. This premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a desire they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. A normal pig would fight off his molester, but a demoralized pig has stopped caring. ''Learned helplessness'' is the psychological term, and it's not uncommon in confinement operations, where tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of sunshine or earth or straw, crowded together beneath a metal roof upon metal slats suspended over a manure pit. So it's not surprising that an animal as sensitive and intelligent as a pig would get depressed, and a depressed pig will allow his tail to be chewed on to the point of infection. Sick pigs, being underperforming ''production units,'' are clubbed to death on the spot. The U.S.D.A.'s recommended solution to the problem is called ''tail docking.'' Using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic), most but not all of the tail is snipped off. Why the little stump? Because the whole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail-biting so much as to render it more sensitive. Now, a bite on the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig will mount a struggle to avoid it.
One horrifying line came later in the article.
Simply reciting these facts, most of which are drawn from poultry-trade magazines, makes me sound like one of those animal people, doesn't it? I don't mean to, but this is what can happen when . . . you look.
An objective description of what goes on in factory farms sounds like the claims of shrill activists; this is a testament to just how horrible they are.
Even the supposedly high welfare farms kill the pigs by beating them to death against concrete—totally legal industry practice.
Matthew Scully started his book “Dominion” with the following description.
It began with one pig at a British slaughterhouse. Somewhere along the production line it was observed that the animal had blisters in his mouth and was salivating. The worst suspicions were confirmed, and within days borders had been sealed and a course of action determined. Soon all of England and the world watched as hundreds, and then hundreds of thousands, of pigs, cows, and sheep and their newborn lambs were taken outdoors, shot, thrown into burning pyres, and bulldozed into muddy graves. Reports described terrified cattle being chased by sharpshooters, clambering over one another to escape. Some were still stirring and blinking a day after being shot. The plague meanwhile had slipped into mainland Europe, where the same ritual followed until, when it was all over, more than ten million animals had been disposed of. Completing the story with the requisite happy ending was a calf heard calling from underneath the body of her mother in a mound of carcasses to be set aflame. Christened “Phoenix,” after the bird of myth that rose from the ashes, the calf was spared.
He later said
Here were innocent, living creatures, and they deserved better, and we just can’t treat life that way. We realized, if only for an instant, that it wasn’t even necessary, that we had brought the whole thing upon them and upon ourselves. Foot-and-mouth disease is a form of flu, treatable by proper veterinary care, preventable by vaccination, lethal neither to humans nor to animals. These animals, millions of them not even infected, were all killed only because their market value had been diminished and because trade policies required it—because, in short, under the circumstances it was the quick and convenient thing to do.
One report from the WSJ at the time said
The British response to foot-and-mouth disease, shared by most rich countries, is to slaughter and burn all animals showing symptoms, plus those that may have been exposed to the diseased animals.
On top of this, thousands of animals burn alive in barn fires, caused by the ammonia and other gasses released by the farms. However, when animals burn alive, even when 200,000 sentient beings burn to death in a fire, to quote an industry spokesperson, “no one was injured.” Hundreds of thousands or millions of animals burn to death—yet despite that, the industry keeps chugging on.
Animals are shipped overseas in horrible conditions, in many ways resembling the ships that were used to ship slaves to the Americas. To quote one report
Once on board, animals face miserable, weeks-long journeys. Confined to small areas, they have no choice but to lie in their own feces and urine. Frequently, the ships are not properly ventilated, and some animals die from intense heat or succumb to respiratory diseases. The bodies of dead animals are usually crushed and thrown into the sea.
Scully describes some more horrific conditions.
As it turns out, such details are at issue in a case now before the Supreme Court of the United States. The dispute, National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, centers on the use of gestation crates for female pigs. These are the iron, fit-to-size cages in which the creatures, about six million of them at any given moment in our country, are kept almost completely immobilized for all of their lives, unable to walk or even turn around.
This four-sided encasement, at 2 feet x 7 feet, or even slightly smaller, confines animals weighing between 400 and 500 pounds, and it’s one of those details about industrial farming that stay with you once you’ve heard about them. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court heard a 2020 case involving a pig farm owned by a subsidiarity of Smithfield Foods, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III remarked during oral argument on “the inhumanity to the animals and the fatality rate” at the farm, and later noted “the outrageous conditions,” the “almost suffocating closeness” of the pigs, the “animal suffering” — and wondered in his written opinion “How did it come to this?” He was referring to the same confinement methods to be examined in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross.
He notes an important point
It would be reasonable for the justices to ask themselves this question, too: If the use of gestation crates is proper and defensible animal husbandry, why has the NPPC lobbied to make it a crime to photograph that very practice?
Imagine if there were rumors that you were mistreating your dog. Would you ban anyone from every entering your house and seeing how you treat your dog? No, of course not. It is only because the factory farms have everything to fear from consumers knowing about the unimaginable cruelty they dispense that they lobby for laws—in flagrant violation of the first amendment—that make it illegal to photograph the horrors that they administer.
One horror is transport, in which vast numbers of animals are stuffed into trucks. The conditions are awful. To quote one source “in many cases animals suffer fatal heart attacks brought on by the high level of stress as a result of the transport conditions.” They additionally note
In addition to the stress of an unfamiliar environment, animals face unique challenges during this time, including:
Weather conditions: heat, sun, cold and wind. The lack of ventilation can cause overheating of their enclosures;
A lack of food and water, which can lead to exhaustion, weakness, and dehydration;
Being forced to stay on foot for long periods of time, which can lead to great tiredness and fatigue;
Wounds and other physical harm from fights that can occur between the animals, due to the highly stressful situation;
Jostling associated with road travel, including potholes, traffic, the speed of the vehicle, and roundabouts;
Slips, bangs, and falls against the walls of the truck or the crates in which the animals are transported, which can cause wounds, internal hemorrhages, and broken bones;
Overcrowding of the animals, which can cause suffocation.
They further note.
Egg-laying birds, principally those raised in battery cages, are the most likely to suffer from broken bones during transport.3 This is because they spend their entire lives confined in cages without the possibility of moving their wings or exercising their muscles, causing their bones to become weak and brittle.4 The poor living conditions results in a 26% death rate among hens5 and a 15% among male chickens during the transport to the slaughterhouse.6
Most people are able to go through their lives without thinking in any detail about how castration works on factory farms. It turns out that the castration is unspeakably horrific, even by the standards of castration with no anesthetic.
Unless used for breeding, most ruminants (cows, goats, sheep) and pigs in production are castrated. Methods of castration vary between species and include surgical removal of the testicles with a scalpel or knife, application of a tight rubber band to cut off testicular blood supply, or the crushing of testicular blood vessels. When deprived of blood, the testicles eventually die and slough off after several weeks. All of these methods cause pain. Surgical castration and crushing are more painful at the time of the procedure, while pain due to banding increases in the hours and days after the procedure and persists longer. With all methods, it is common for pain to last for days to weeks.
Reasons for castration—which vary from species to species—include reducing aggressiveness, preventing unwanted breeding, and modifying carcass characteristics or meat quality. For pigs, the primary reason for castration is to avoid an undesirable odor and flavor in pork from sexually mature boars.
So the conditions are so horrible that a huge portion of animals die. And this is before they get to the slaughterhouse.
These beings cannot be reduced to mere statistics. If you lived every life that was ever lived, you’d spend far more time living as a victim of factory farming than as a person consuming meat. If you experienced all the pleasure of meat from factory farms, but also the suffering caused by it, you’d demand that we end these vicious torture chambers immediately. But alas, the victims cannot speak as their infected flesh wastes away, so their cries go unheard.
Here’s a question that shouldn’t be difficult for anyone with a moral compass: should babies be ground to death in blenders? Should they be suffocated in bags? If your answer is no—as no doubt it should be—you should oppose this horrific practice done to billions of baby chicks. Are you really in favor of paying for the blending of babies?
If you think you’re not opposed to what goes on here, I’d recommend the movie watch dominion. See if, when you look at what actually goes on, when you see the animals not merely as a piece of meat but as actual beings, you can stomach it. If you can, you might be a psychopath, but at least you’re consistent. Yet for those of you who are repulsed by it, you should stop funding it, stop paying for more animals to be viciously tortured to death in these vile, ignoble gulags of despair.
The things we do to animals in many ways resemble the things done to humans in history’s worst atrocities, including slavery and the holocaust. Sentient beings boiled alive, having their throat cut, living in feces, having their limbs taken off. The cruelty is staggering. Drab descriptions of industry practices don’t resemble what goes on in other industries—they resemble horror stories. One shudders imagining themself having to risk being in a situation like that—before they realize that this is the fate of billions. Actions that we’d never risk in a million years shouldn’t be forced on billions of sentient, helpless animals—animals who scream, shriek, and wail, all to no avail. For the cries of the helpless calf who sobs before their dying mother do not endanger the profits of the industry—they’re thus totally ignored.
When a quarter million birds are stuffed into a single shed, unable even to flap their wings, when more than a million pigs inhabit a single farm, never once stepping into the light of day, when every year tens of millions of creatures go to their death without knowing the least measure of human kindness, it is time to question old assumptions, to ask what we are doing and what spirit drives us on.
— Matthew Scully “Dominion”
Hopefully, you think that this is bad—that this horrific treatment of billions of beings is one of history’s greatest crimes. However, if you are not yet swayed, here are some ethical arguments for why this grisly maltreatment is bad.
First, a very plausible ethical principle is that vast suffering for trivial benefits is bad. That is what we do to animals. If you eat a chicken sandwich, it’s a slightly enjoyable experience, but it’s only a trivial benefit. Thus, you are inflicting vast amounts of suffering—the typical chicken sandwich causes weeks of torture—for trivial benefits.
This principle is incredibly obvious. As Huemer says, the badness of pain and suffering is just about the most obvious moral principle ever proposed. Everyone agrees with this. Okay, maybe people occasionally think there are weird edge cases like masochism where suffering isn’t bad, but basically everyone agrees that in most cases—and certainly in a case where a being is just living in shit, ammonia, being castrated, and having a hundred other terrible things done to it, its pain is bad. Additionally, the masochism case isn’t a case of genuine suffering—you’re not really suffering if you enjoy it.
So pain and suffering are quite bad—undeniably so. Their badness is the clearest truth ever. So if pain and suffering are bad—then it’s wrong to cause enormous amounts of them for trivial benefits. This shouldn’t need be said, but it apparently is—it’s immoral to cause something enormously bad for the sake of a trivial benefit.
Second: animal cruelty is on its face immoral. When we see a person kicking a dog, we all have the intuition that the dog kicking shouldn’t be done. And yet the treatment of the vast majority of animals that we eat—99% of which come from factory farms—is far crueler than a person kicking a dog. It’s far crueler than a person who beats a dog to death with a shovel—at least the dog’s suffering is short, while the animals we abuse have their suffering drawn out across weeks.
Can we really condemn those who abuse animals if we ourselves pay for far greater cruelty? Can we really judge those who brutally kill their pets or those who practice bestiality, when we pay for greater cruelty on a daily basis?
Third, consider a different case. Imagine someone was paying for pigs to be put in gas chambers because they liked the way their squeals sounded. We would be outraged—animal abuse isn’t worth enjoying particular sounds. What if they were gassed because we liked the way they smelled? A cry of outrage would erupt throughout the public—surely a pleasant smell wouldn’t be worth horrific torture. What about one who enjoyed the way that tortured corpses of animals looked? We’d be outraged—looks don’t justify horrific torture. How about taste? We’d be similarly outraged. Oh wait, that’s literally what we do. We pay for animals to be brutally tortured and killed because we like the taste of their tortured corpse. Surely there’s no morally relevant difference between a pleasant smell and a pleasant taste.
Maybe you think you’re morally different from those who torture pigs for the smell of their corpse. After all you just want a byproduct of suffering, not the suffering itself. It’s not clear why this matters, but even if it does, there’s still a parallel case. One who enjoys the smell of animals corpses doesn’t gain extra pleasure from them being tortured. Torture is just a means towards and end, the end being cheap animal corpses which can be smelled.
A fourth argument is the Name the Trait Argument/The Argument from Marginal cases. Is there anything that justifies treating animals horrifically? If so, what is it? Is it intelligence? Well if it’s intelligence, then that justifies torturing and eating severely mentally disabled people or terminally ill babies. Any trait that justifies the difference in treatment would similarly justify mistreating some humans, for the humans with the least of any trait possess less of it than the animals with the most of it. This is true whether it’s moral agency, intelligence, or anything else.
Maybe you think that being a human is what intrinsically matters. Aside from being ad hoc, this has an insane conclusion. Imagine we stumbled across an alien civilization that looked like us, talked like us, and acted like us. However, they were not technically humans—they had a different evolutionary lineage. Would it really be okay to brutally torture them to death so we can devour their corpses? Doesn’t seem too plausible.
Fifth, a basic principle of empathy is that ethics should be impartial. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the beings affected. That’s why rocks don’t matter—they aren’t sentient, they have no interests. A good way of doing this is imagining one behind a veil of ignorance, where they’re equally likely to be any of the affected parties. Let’s imagine that for animals. If you were just as likely to be the chicken that adorns your plate as you were to be yourself, eating a lovely meal, wouldn’t you rather not eat meat. It’s only gross neglect of the affected sentient beings that causes us to mistreat them these ways.
Sixth, as Alastair Norcross argues, eating meat is analogous to a case in which a person tortures puppies in their basement because it produces a chemical that makes food taste better. How is that any different from eating meat. In both cases, we’re causing enormous animal suffering for the sake of trivial taste pleasure.
This is not just some bad thing. Even if we ignore all sea creatures and value land animals at 1/1000 what we value humans, our treatment of animals is morally equivalent to brutally torturing and killing about 80 million people every year. 80 billion animals being brutally tortured is such a vast number, that even if we devalue animals to a fairly large degree, it still wins out as the worst thing in the world. And this is a gross underestimate of its true immorality.
Your individual consumption decisions can make a difference. We have data that bears this out from the most comprehensive study of the topic. This chart provides a rough estimate, showing that consumption causes weeks of suffering for animal products like chicken. Weeks of torture is not worth a chicken sandwich.
There’s an obvious reason for this; the reason these animals are bred in such horrific conditions is that people will pay for their flesh. They breed a number of beings proportional to the number that will be consumed. One fewer consumer, one fewer animal produced in expectation. In reality, they group things in terms of thresholds, say every 900 people who consume animals will trigger an increase, resulting in 900 extra animals being bred into existence. But that still means that the expected harm from consuming meat is the same. So if you still eat meat, you really should stop immediately—you’re inflicting unfathomable suffering on enormous numbers of beings.
Vectors of Disease
“Animals must be off the menu because tonight they are screaming in terror.”
Yet even if we ignored the brutal torture of billions of animals we’d still conclude that factory farming must end. The end of it would massively improve health. Healthline reviewed 16 studies, and concluded veganism has a positive impact on health causing weight loss, drop in LDL cholesterol, reduced heart disease risk, vegans got more fiber, less fat, blood sugar lowering, etc. Casini et al in 2016 wrote in a comprehensive meta analysis
“Conclusions: This comprehensive meta-analysis reports a significant protective effect of a vegetarian diet versus the incidence and/or mortality from ischemic heart disease (-25%) and incidence from total cancer (-8%). Vegan diet conferred a significant reduced risk (-15%) of incidence from total cancer.”
When it comes to health, it’s not just that a plant based diet has been shown to be healthy and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, including pregnancy and infancy, as stated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s that a whole-foods plant based diet has been shown to help the gut microbiome, reduce inflammation, lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure, boost your immune system and also reduce the risk of developing many leading chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type two diabetes , strokes, certain forms of cancer such as colon, breast, and prostate and may even protect against cognitive decline.
Factory-farmed animals use two-thirds of the world’s antibiotics. The World health organization finds by 2050 anti biotic resistant microbes will kill 10 million people a year, which is more than cancer. Much of the antibiotic resistance comes from factory farms. Most new diseases come from animals. Factory farming is a breeding ground for new disease.
The case against factory farming is overdetermined. We ought not support an industry that devastates the environment, harms health, enables pandemics and diseases broadly, and brutally tortures and kills billions of sentient land animals and trillions of total sentient beings, causing more suffering every few years than all of the suffering in human history. Factory farming delenda est.
We must choose—choose between violence and non-violence, hideous torture and peace. In short, we must choose between animals and plants; and the correct choice is utterly obvious.
This article lays out in detail organizations to which people can donate to fight factory farms.
The end of factory farming must come as soon as possible. Our horrific mistreatment of animals is perhaps the worst thing ever. Let us one day look back upon it as the horror it is.
The horrors of factory farming should be relatively uncontroversial; babies should not be ground up in blenders so we can enjoy their byproduct. If there is a god, he will have to beg the victims of factory farming for forgiveness, for giving man free will.
“Fortunately many producers are now selecting pigs that are stress gene free to improve meat quality.”
It might be less though—see here, for example, for a contrary source that gives it nearer to 60%. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1439-0442.2007.00920.x