When you think of a farm, do you picture rolling hills with cattle grazing freely or do you see a place where the cattle are locked and immobilized in cubicles and force fed grain and feed made from left over parts of other cattle? The farm of James Herriot's books or the mechanical farm similar to The Matrix.
Desmond Morris wrote a book in 1989 entitled, "The Animal Contract". In this book, he examines the evolution of farming. He holds that when men domesticated animals, the arrangement was one of mutual benefit. The farmer for much of human history took great care of his animals, providing them with food, care, shelter and a good life. Even though, the animals were being raised as food and destined for the dinner table, he argues that they were given a quality of life they would not otherwise have enjoyed in the wild. This give and take arrangement is the basis of the social contract between animals and farmers
I know that there are many vegans who feel we should not be farming any animals at all and that all farming is exploitation. However, I believe though that from the moment we are born, we have an impact on the world around us and it is a give and take relation. To live we need to consume resources which we do at the expense of other creatures and sometimes at the expense of fellow man. Every need, every action we take impacts on our world. We all consume water, breathe air, excrete waste, wear clothes, live in houses, travel in vehicles etc. All of these impact the world and is carried out at some expense to our fellow creatures.
Our task and our challenge is to reduce the impact of such actions so as to reach an acceptable equillibrium. In the case, of traditional farming, the equillibrium or the trade off was food in exchange of a better quality (and in some cases, longer life span) than the animal might expect living in the wild. Unfortunately, the quaint traditional farms of yesteryear have been increasingly replaced by large corporate farms which follow the mantra of optimising food and biomass production per square meter. They are definately more productive but their methods are a hazard to both man and beast.
These factory farming methods has led to widespread use of antibiotics and growth hormones in agriculture which are definately deleterious to our health. Mad cow disease and avian flu are greater threats because of this high intensity farming. The impact on animals has been frightful. Animals like cows and chickens are crowded together, often immobilised for their entire life. Such animals develop behavioral problems not unlike having a nervous breakdown. This has resulted in animals injuring themselves or others. To counter this, factory farms resort to mutilation of the animals through actions such as cutting off beaks. The animals are often force fed as well. Clearly the animals are not enjoying a better quality of life. Rather they are sentenced to solitary confinement in inhumanely close quarters awaiting execution. Desmond Morris would definately agree that we have breeched our social contract with farm animals.
I like the convenience of fast food joints but I feel we need to tell these food manufacturers that we want food from ethically managed farms where animals are treated with dignity and given a quality life. We need to say no to the nightmarish torture dungeons that farms have become today.
Many native cultures give thanksgiving either to God or to the spirits of the animals that were about to be sacrificed for food for their people. Perhaps we should try that the next time we order a Big Mac. Perhaps we should add our voices to those fighting for a more ethical approach to animal treatment in factory farms.
Please have a look at this flash animation which warns us further of the consequences of our inaction. You should see this if 1) you want to learn more and 2) if you share by wacky sense of humor.