Is Factory Farming the Greatest Evil Ever?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Is Factory Farming the Greatest Evil Ever?

My recent essays have explored the difficulty discerning motivations. This should discourage us from labeling individuals as evil. Many people have caused great harm despite having, at least in their own eyes, the best of intentions. A hesitance to judge individuals as evil should not dissuade us from identifying certain activities as evil.

With that in mind, I offer several arguments in support of the position that contemporary animal agribusiness is the greatest evil ever perpetrated by humanity. There have been many horrors that were evil acts, but in scope and brutality perhaps none exceeds factory farming.

  1. In the United States, over 1 million land animals are killed per hour. The vast majority endured lives of unrelieved suffering and abuse in factory farms. Humans have abused humans and nonhumans for millennia, but in terms of numbers, no human atrocity comes close to the contemporary institution of factory farming.
  2. Genocides usually end with the extermination of the victims. In contrast, nonhumans are continually being bred in response to an insatiable appetite for flesh. Of course, there have been times when human slavery has persisted for centuries, so the perpetual nature of factory farming is distinctive but not unique.
  3. In general, when humans have killed or abused fellow humans, the intended reasons (however misguided or flatly incorrect they might be) related to important concerns. For example, many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust against the Jews, the Rwandan genocide of Tutsi, and the American extermination of most of the Native Americans believed that their crimes were necessary to preserve societies against major threats. In contrast, factory farming serves only to meet a food preference. Moreover, the extreme brutality of factory farming reflects a desire to obtain flesh and other animal products as cheaply as possible. If people were willing to pay a little more for these products, their procurement would still entail abuse, but the degree of abuse could be far less.
  4. Victims of human abuse have not deserved their ill-treatment, but often they were not completely innocent. For example, the lighter-skinned Tutsi, arguably benefiting from racist policies of Belgian colonials, exploited Hutus, leading to resentment that culminated in the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus when the opportunity arose. Factory farmed animals are totally innocent. They never intentionally harm anyone (though, in their effort to escape pain or death, they do occasionally hurt farm workers).
  5. Humans can often struggle on their own behalf, arguing against institutions that mistreat them or even fighting against their tormentors. In contrast, nonhumans have no effective means of resisting their human oppressors.
  6. The preference for flesh is a leading cause of human-caused misery. Consuming flesh and other animal products has contributed heavily to global warming, squandering of limited natural resources, and reducing food security.

How should we respond to this, perhaps humanityís greatest evil ever? Iíll start to explore this question next essay.

Go on to: Review of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat
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