Question 48: The animals are killed so
fast that they don't feel any pain or even know they're being killed; what's
wrong with that?
This view can only be maintained by those unfamiliar with modern
production methods. Great stress occurs during transport in which
millions die miserably each year. And the conveyor-belt approach to the
slaughtering process causes the animals to struggle for their lives as
they experience the agony of the fear of death. Only people who have never
watched the process can believe that they don't feel any pain or aren't
aware that they're being killed.
One point that many people are unaware of is that poultry is exempted
the requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act. Egg-laying hens are typically
not stunned before slaughter. Also exempt from the act are animals killed
under Kosher conditions (see question #49).
But even if no suffering were involved, the killing of sensitive,
intelligent animals on a vast scale (over six billion each year in the
U.S. alone) cannot be regarded as morally correct, especially since today
it is demonstrably clear that eating animal flesh is not only unnecessary
but even harmful for people. Fellow-mammals are not like corn or carrots.
To treat them as if they were is to perpetuate an impoverished morality
which is based not on rationality but merely tradition.
Even the climactic killing process itself is not so clean as one is
to believe. Every method carries strong doubts about its "humaneness".
For example, consider electrocution. We routinely give anesthetics to
people receiving electro-shock therapy due to its painful effects.
Consider the pole-axe. It requires great skill to deliver a perfect,
instantly fatal blow. Few possess the skill, and many animals suffer from
the ineptness with which the process is administered. Consider Kosher
slaughter, where an animal is hoisted and bled to death without prior
stunning. Often joints are ruptured during the hoisting, and the death
a slow, conscious one. The idea of a clean, painless kill is a fantasy
promulgated by those with a vested interest in the continuance of the
Question 49: What is factory farming, and what
is wrong with it?
Factory farming is an industrial process that applies the philosophy
practices of mass production to animal farming. Animals are considered
individual sentient beings, but rather as a means to an end--eggs, meat,
leather, etc. The objective is to maximize output and profit. The animals
are manipulated through breeding, feeding, confinement, and chemicals to
lay eggs faster, fatten more quickly, or make leaner meat. Costs are
minimized by recycling carcasses through feed, minimizing unit space, not
providing bedding (which gets soiled and needs cleaning), and other
Battery-hen egg production is perhaps the most publicized form. Hens
"maintained" in cages of minimal size, allowing for little or
and no expression of natural behavior patterns. Hens are painfully debeaked
and sometimes declawed to protect others in the cramped cage. There are
floors to the cages, so that excrement can fall through onto a tray--the
therefore are standing on wire. Cages are stacked on top of each other
long rows, and are kept inside a climate-controlled barn. The hens are
used as a mechanism for turning feed into eggs. After a short, miserable
they are processed as boiler chickens or recycled.
Other typical factory farming techniques are used in pig production,
animals are kept in concrete pens with no straw or earth, unable to move
than a few inches, to ensure the "best" pork. When sows litter,
kept so the only contact between the sow and piglets is access to the teats.
The production of veal calves is a similar restraining process. The calves
kept in narrow crates which prevent them from turning; they can only stand
lie down. They are kept in the dark with no contact with other animals.
Factory farming distresses people because of the treatment of the animals;
they are kept in unnatural conditions in terms of space, possible behaviors,
and interactions with other animals. Keeping animals in these circumstances
is not only cruel to the animals, but diminishes the humanity of those
involved, from production to consumption.
In addition, the use of chemicals and hormones to maximize yields, reduce
health problems in the animals, and speed production may also be harmful
see also question 12, 14, 32, 48, 50
Question 50: But cattle can't be factory-farmed,
so I can eat them, right?
At this time, cattle farming has not progressed to the extremes
on some other animals--cows still have to graze. However, the proponents
factory farming are always considering the possibilities of extending their
techniques, as the old-style small farm becomes a faded memory and farming
becomes a larger and more complex industry, competing for finance from
consumers and lenders. Cattle farming practices such as increasing cattle
densities on feedlots, diet supplementation, and controlled breeding are
already being implemented. Other developments will be introduced.
However, as discussed in question #49, it is not only the method of
farming that is of concern. Transport to the slaughterhouse, often a long
journey in crowded conditions without access to food and water, and the
at the slaughterhouse followed by the slaughtering process are themselves
brutal and harmful. And the actual killing process is itself not necessarily
clean or painless (see question #48).
We can challenge the claim that cattle cannot be factory-farmed; it
isn't true. We can also challenge the claim that if it were true, it would
justify killing and eating cattle.
A broad view of factory farming includes practices that force adaptations
(often through breeding) that increase the "productivity" of
Such increases in productivity are invariably achieved at the expense of
increased suffering of the animals concerned. This broader view definitely
includes cattle, both that raised for meat and for dairy production.
Veal production is paradigmatic factory farming. David Cowles-Hamar
describes it as follows: "Veal calves are kept in isolation in 5'x2'
in which they are unable even to turn around. They are kept in darkness
of the time. They are given no bedding (in case they try to eat it) and
fed only a liquid diet devoid of iron and fiber to keep their flesh anemic
and pale. After 3-5 months they are slaughtered."
Dairy farming also qualifies as factory-farming. Here are some salient
* Calves are taken away at 1-3 days causing terrible distress to both
the cows and the calves; many calves go for veal production.
* Over 170,000 calves die each year due to poor husbandry and appalling
treatment at markets.
* Cows are milked for 10 months and produce 10 times the milk a calf
would take naturally. Mastitis (udder inflammation) frequently results.
* Cows are fed a high-protein diet to increase yield; often even this is
not enough and the cow is forced to break down body tissues, leading
to acidosis and consequent lameness. About 25 percent of cows are
* At about 5 years of age, the cow is spent and exhausted and is
slaughtered. The normal life span is about 20 years.
Finally, we cannot accept that even if it were not possible to factory-farm
cattle, that therefore it is morally acceptable to kill and eat them. David
Cowles-Hamar puts it this way: "The suggestion that animals should
their freedom with their lives is moral nonsense."
see also question 14, 48-49
Question 51: But isn't it true that cows
won't produce milk (or chickens lay eggs) if they are not content?
This is simply untrue. Lactation is a physiological response that
follows giving birth. The cow cannot avoid giving milk any more than
she can avoid producing urine. The same is true of chickens and egg-laying;
the egg output is manipulated to a high level by selective breeding,
carefully regulated conditions that simulate a continuous summer season,
and a carefully controlled diet.
To drive this point home further, consider that over the last five
decades, the conditions for egg-laying chickens have become increasingly
unnatural and confining (see question #49), yet the egg output has increased
many times over. Chickens will even continue to lay when severely injured;
they simply cannot help it.
see also question 49, 52, 55
Question 52: Don't hens lay unfertilized
eggs that would otherwise be wasted?
Yes, but that is no justification for imposing barbaric and cruel
on them designed to artificially boost their egg production. If the
questioner is wondering if it is OK to use eggs left by free-range chickens
"to go cold", then the answer from the AR side is that free-range
production is not so idyllic as one might like to think (see question #55).
Also, such a source of eggs can satisfy only a tiny fraction of the demand.
see also question 49, 51, 55
Question 53: But isn't it true that the
animals have never known anything better?
If someone bred a race of humans for slavery, would you accept
excuse that the slaves have never known anything better? The point is that
there IS something better, and they are being deprived of it.
Not having known anything better does not alleviate the suffering of
animal. Its fundamental desires remain and it is the frustration of those
desires that is a great part of its suffering. There are so many examples:
the dairy cow who is never allowed to raise her young, the battery hen
can never walk or stretch her wings, the sow who can never build a nest
root for food in the forest litter, etc. Eventually we frustrate the animal's
most fundamental desire of all--to live.
Question 54: Don't farmers know better than
city-dwelling people about how to treat animals?
This view is often put forward by farmers (and their family members).
Typically they claim that, by virtue of proximity to their farmed animals,
they possess some special knowledge. When pressed to present this
knowledge, and to show how it can justify their exploitation of animals
or discount the animals' pain and suffering, only the tired arguments
addressed in this FAQ come forth. In short, there is no "special knowledge".
One should also remember that those farmers who exploit animals have a
strong vested interest in the continuance of their practices. Would one
assert that a logger knows best about how the forests should be treated?
Technically, this argument is an instance of the "genetic fallacy".
should be evaluated on their own terms, not by reference to the originators.
Question 55: Can't we just eat free-range products?
The term "free-range" is used to indicate a production
method in which the
animals are (allegedly) not factory-farmed but, instead, are provided with
conditions that allow them to fully express their natural behavior. Some
people feel that free-range products are thus ethically acceptable. There
are two cases to be considered: first, the case where the free-range animal
itself is slaughtered for use, and second, the case where the free-range
animal provides a product (typically, hens providing eggs, or cows providing
Common to both cases is a problem with misrepresentation of conditions
"free-range". Much of what passes for free-range is hardly any
standard factory-farming; a visit to a large "free-range egg farm"
that obvious (and see MT's comments below).
Nutritionally, free-range products are no better than their factory-farmed
equivalents, which are wholly or partly responsible for a list of diseases
long as your arm.
For the case of free-range animals slaughtered for use, we must ask
should a free-range animal be any more deserving of an unnecessary death
than any other animal? Throughout this FAQ, we have argued that animals
have a right to live free from human brutality. Our brutality cannot be
excused by our provision of a short happy life. David Cowles-Hamar puts
it this way:
"The suggestion that animals should pay for their freedom with their
is moral nonsense." Another thing to think about is the couple described
at the end of question #13. Their babies are free-range, so it's OK to
eat them, right?
For the case of products from free-range animals, we can identify at
four problems: 1) it remains an inefficient use of food resources, 2) it
still environmentally damaging, 3) animals are killed off as soon as they
become "unproductive", and 4) the animals must be replaced; the
nonproductive males are killed or go to factory farms (the worst instance
of this is the fate of male calves born to dairy cows; many go for veal
What's wrong with free-range eggs? To get laying hens you must have
fertile eggs and half of the eggs will hatch into male chicks. These are
killed at once (by gassing, crushing, suffocation, decompression, or
drowning), or raised as "table birds" (usually in broiler houses)
slaughtered as soon as they reach an economic weight. So, for every
free-range hen scratching around the garden or farm (who, if she were able
bargain, might pay rent with her daily infertile egg), a corresponding
from her batch is enduring life in a broiler house or has already been
subjected to slaughter or thrown away to die. Every year in Britain alone,
more than 35 million day-old male chicks are killed. They are mainly used
fertilizer or dumped in landfill sites.
The hens are slaughtered as soon as their production drops (usually
two years; their natural life span is 5-7 years). Also, be aware that many
sites classified as free-range aren't really free-range; they are just
massive barns with access to the outside. Since the food and light are
inside, the hens rarely venture outside.
see also question 13, 49-50, 52
Question 56: Anything wrong with honey?
Bees are often killed in the production of honey, in the worst
whole hive may be destroyed if the keeper doesn't wish to protect them
the winter. Not all beekeepers do this, but the general practice is one
embodies the attitude that living things are mere material and have no
intrinsic value of their own other than what commercial value we can wrench
from them. Artificial insemination involving death of the male is now also
the norm for generation of new queen bees. The favored method of obtaining
bee sperm is by pulling off the insect's head (decapitation sends an
electrical impulse to the nervous system which causes sexual arousal).
lower half of the headless bee is then squeezed to make it ejaculate. The
resulting liquid is collected in a hypodermic syringe.
see also question 22, 39-41
Question 57: Don't crop harvest techniques
and transportation, etc., lead to the death of animals?
The questioner's probable follow-up is to assert that since we
actions that result in the death of animals for producing crops, a form
food, we should therefore not condemn actions (i.e., raising and slaughter)
that result in the death of animals for producing meat, another form of
food. How do we confront this argument?
It is clear that incidental (or accidental, unintended) deaths of animals
result from crop agriculture. It is equally clear that intentional deaths
animals result from animal agriculture. Our acceptance of acts that lead
incidental deaths does not require the acceptance of acts that lead to
intentional deaths. (A possible measure of intentionality is to ask if
success of the enterprise is measured by the extent of the result. In our
case, the success of crop agriculture is not measured by the number of
accidental deaths; in animal agriculture, conversely, the success of the
enterprise is directly measured by the number of animals produced for
slaughter and consumption.)
Having shown that the movement from incidental to intentional is not
justified, we can still ask what justifies even incidental deaths. We must
realize that the question does not bear on Animal Rights specifically,
applies to morality generally. The answer, stripped to its essentials,
that the rights of innocents can be overridden in certain circumstances.
If rights are genuinely in conflict, a reasonable principle is to violate
the rights of the fewest.
Nevertheless, when such an overriding of the rights of innocents is
done, there is a responsibility to ensure that the harm is minimized.
Certainly, crop agriculture is preferable to animal agriculture in this
regard. In the latter case, we have the added incidental harm due to
the much greater amount of crops needed to produce animals (versus feeding
the crops directly to people), AND the intentional deaths of the produced
Finally, many argue for organic and more labor-intensive methods of
agriculture that reduce incidental deaths. As one wag puts it, we have
responsibility to survive, but we can also survive responsibly!
see also question 58-59
Question 58: Modern agriculture requires
us to push animals off land to convert it to crops; isn't this a violation
of the animals' rights?
Pushing animals off their habitats to pursue agriculture is a less
serious instance of the actions discussed in question #57, which deals
animal death as a result of agriculture. Refer to that question for
An abiding theme is that vegetarianism versus meat eating, and crop
agriculture versus animal agriculture, tend to minimize the amount of
suffering. For example, more acreage is required to support animal
production than to support crop production (for the same nutritional
capability). Thus, animal production encroaches more on wildlife than does
crop agriculture. We cannot eliminate our adverse effects, but we can
try to minimize them.
see also question 57, 59
Question 59: Don't farmers have to kill
We could simply say that less pests are killed on a vegetarian
that killing is not even necessary for pest management, but because the
issue is interesting, we answer more fully!
This question is similar to question #57 in that the questioner's likely
follow-up is to ask why it is acceptable to kill pests for food but not
kill animals for food. It differs from question #57 in that the defense
that the killing is incidental is not available because pests are killed
intentionally. We can respond to this argument in two ways. First, we can
argue that the killing is justifiable, and second, we can argue that it
is not necessary and should be avoided. Let's look at these in turn.
Our moral systems typically allow for exceptions to the requirement that
we not harm others. One major exception is for self-defense. If we are
threatened, we have the right to use force to resist the threat. To the
extent that pests are a threat to our food supplies, our habitats, or
our health, we are justified in defending ourselves. We have the
responsibility to use appropriate force, but sometimes this requires
action fatal to the threatening creatures.
Even if the killing of pests is seen as wrong despite the self-defense
argument, we can argue that crop agriculture should be preferred over
animal agriculture because it involves the minimization of the required
killing of pests (for reasons described in question #57).
Possibly overshadowing these moral arguments, however, is the argument
the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides is not only
not necessary but extremely damaging to the planet, and should therefore
be avoided. Let us first look at the issue of necessity, followed by the
issue of environmental damage.
David Cowles-Hamar writes: "For thousands of years, peoples all
world have used farming methods based on natural ecosystems where potential
pest populations are self-regulating. These ideas are now being explored
in organic farming and permaculture." Michael W. Fox writes: "Integrated
pest management and better conservation of wilderness areas around crop
lands in order to provide natural predators for crop pests are more ecologically
sensible alternatives to the continuous use of pesticides."
The point is that there are effective alternatives to the agrichemical
In addition to the agricultural methods described above, many pest
problems can be prevented, certainly the most effective approach. For
example, some major pest threats are the result of accidental or intentional
human introduction of animals into a habitat. We need to be more careful
in this regard. Another example is the use of rodenticides. More effective
and less harmful to the environment would be an approach that relies on
maintenance of clean conditions, plugging of entry holes, and nonlethal
trapping followed by release into the wild.
The effects of the intensive use of agrichemicals on the environment
very serious. It results in nation-wide ground water pollution. It results
in the deaths of beneficial non-target species. The development of
resistant strains requires the use of stronger chemicals with resulting
more serious effects on the environment. Agrichemicals are generally more
highly concentrated in animal products than in vegetables. It is thus
enlightened self-interest to eschew animal consumption!
Organic farming and related methods eschew agrichemicals in favor of
natural, sustainable methods.
see also question 57-58