Peter Singer’s Position on Factory Farming
Factory farming of animals, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations is the system employed by most food manufacturers to produce the animal products that they trade in. It is a method of farming which involves the production of animals and animal products in large numbers through the use of what is considered an efficient process of feeding and concentration to achieve the fastest growth rates possible.
Peter Singer (2006) argues that this process of food production is morally wrong. According to his view, this presents an abuse of animals to an extent which is greater than the abuse of animals used in research. The numbers of animals that are produced and killed this way, estimated to be about 10 billion per annum in the United States, presents the gravity of the situation of abuse of animals and as such action needs to be taken to reverse this trend.
According to singer, factory farming uses methods which do not make consideration on the rights of animals and more often than not, the animals spend the greater part of their lives in confinement just being fattened for eventual slaughter. He goes further to argue that most of these animals are in pain for a better part of their lives due to the methods employed in the farming of these animals and gives an example of broilers which grow so fast that their poorly developed bones of their feet cannot withstand the weight of their bodies, and their confinement is made worse because they cannot move around because of the pain in their joints. He further goes to show other examples of animal abuse in factory farming such as death to broilers when their legs collapse due to their weight and cannot reach their food and die of hunger. Another example is the confined rearing of animals for meat such as heifers and pigs which are not allowed the freedom to move in their entire lives.
In his opinion, Singer argues that it is morally wrong to practice factory farming at the expense of the decency of animal life. To further this argument, he appeals using the speciesism by appealing the for the special consideration of animals as humans beings would make consideration of their species, essentially by treating animals in the same way as human beings would be treated.
Singer’s also opposes the explanation given for factory farming; a fast, efficient and cheap way of production of food to meet the demands of the rising world population as being untrue. He argues that other methods of food production can be used successfully to meet the food demands of the world’s population. He argues that the usage of this method actually reduces the total amount of food available for human consumption since the grains used to feed these animals is used wastefully. He argues that since concentrated animal feeding operations rely on the feeding of animals rather than the animals feeding themselves in pastures, factory feeding relies heavily on cropland to grow the food for feeding the animals and thus the whole system has a greater demand on the environment in terms of land, energy and water than if the animals were grown in the conventional way be allowing them to feed themselves on pastures. The implication of this argument is that it would be cheaper if these land resources were employed to grow food for human consumption.
In conclusion, singer argues that there are cheaper alternatives to factory farming, and cites encouragement of the public to use vegetarian diet and promotion to buyers to buy only from producers who allow their animals to go outside and live a minimally decent lives and generally advises that the public should shun factory farm products since its production violates basic ethical standards (Singer, 2006).
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Empirical Evidence on Factory Farming
Singer’s arguments are based on an ethical ground and his opinion is mostly based on the claims by animal rights activists. However, studies have indeed shown that factory farming has adverse effects not only on the health of the animals themselves but also to humans, and this brings out the severity of the matter. According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) (henceforth referred as CDC), factory farms can cause adverse effects on the health of farm workers who may develop chronic lung diseases and infections such as tuberculosis which may be transmitted from animals to human beings. Animals such as pigs which are grown in factory farms have been identified as reservoirs for dangerous strains of Methicilin resistant Staphycoccus aureus (MRSA), and animals bred in factory farms have been known to develop drug resistant strains of this disease which can be transmitted to humans (Kirby, 2009).
Singer criticises the abuse of animals by keeping them in confined spaces. It has been established through studies that such intensive confinement in some animals, especially poultry provides optimal conditions for viral mutation and transmission and are thus able to transfer contagious diseases to human beings. Arguments that this is not possible because of bio security are not valid since it is impossible to completely implement bio safety measures that are tamper proof (Food & water Watch, March 2007).
Singer also argues that there is a heavy environmental cost of factory farming in the utilization of land, energy and water and further argues that these resources would be better utilised in the conventional way to grow food for human consumption. This is a very valid argument, and studies by Bernstein (2004) have shown that indeed the environmental cost may actually be higher than previously thought. The intensive growth of feed for animals in factory farms leads to environmental degradation since such methods use excessive fertilisers and pesticides and end up causing pollution to water, soil and air (Bernstein, 2004). The wastes from factory farms cause air pollution since they emit methane and nitrous oxide and cause air pollution. Other adverse environmental impacts of factory farming have been identified as deforestation for animal feed production, unsustainable pressure on land for the production of high yield animal feeds, unsustainable use of water to grow feed crops and land degradation and loss of genetic diversity of livestock and possible species extinction (Bernstein, 2004).
It can therefore be concluded that Singer’s arguments against factory farming, though based on ethical considerations, hold water when examined against scientific studies and evidence. There is really a need to evaluate the appropriateness of factory farming in light of the adverse effects that it causes and has the potential to cause.
Personal Position on Factory Farming
Other than factory farming being an abuse to animals and presenting untold suffering to animals for profit, there needs to be more attention directed towards the adverse effects of such practices not only on the animals but human populations. Humanity is presently faced with many health issues ranging from lifestyle diseases and new strains of diseases. The continued use of factory farming as a cheap alternative to organic production of food may actually prove to be more expensive in the long run in terms of social costs associated with the practice and the costs due to environmental degradation.
The health effects of factory farming on the workers in such farms cannot be ignored. It has been established that workers in factory farms are in a higher risk of contracting diseases from animals and acting as carriers to other human populations. It is thus imperative that the welfare of the individuals who work in factory farms be taken care of, and this may imply actually doing away with factory farming.
More research should be conducted to seek ways of improving the conditions of animals in factory farms. The abuse that such animals go through should be done away with and cost considerations should not be the only determinants for the production of the products. More space for movement and natural growth should be encouraged so that animals have better conditions. Better still, organic production should be encouraged to avoid the threats that are presented to humanity and environment that are associated with factory farming.
In conclusion, through Singer’s arguments are based on the view of the protection of animal rights; they are indeed valid and should be taken seriously. It is upon the scientific community to come up with alternatives to factory farming or develop more environmentally friendly methods of conducting the ventures of factory farming.
Baur G. (2008). Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. Touchstone.
Bernstein M. H. (2004). Without a Tear: Our Tragic Relationship With Animals. University of Illinois Press, Chicago, IL.
Brooman S.& Legge D. (2005). Law Relating To Animals. Cavendish Publishing, New York, NY.
David Kirby (2009-04-28). ” Mexican Lawmaker: Factory Farms Are ” Breeding Grounds” of Swine Flu Pandemic”. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-11-27
Food & Water Watch (2007). Food Safety Consequences of Factory Farms”. Food & Water Watch.
Nierenburg D. (2005) Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry. WorldWatch Paper 171: 15.