Background of Animal Rights: the Meat Industry

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The use of non-human animals for the survival and benefit of humans has been a contentious issue throughout time. Non-human animals (referred to in this paper as “animals”) have been used as a food source for the human species (referred to in this paper as “humans”) since the two coexisted. Further, humans have maintained their same level of demand even as their own population grew. In other words, increasing the use of animals in order to keep up with the human population growth. For example, between the years of 2015 and 2016, over 18 billion animals were killed in order to use them as food for humans . One result of this increased demand was the treatment of animals ultimately meant for human consumption. Animals used to roam free and be hunted by humans, but the confinement grew alongside demand. With cages and confined spaces for animals, it becomes easier to access these animals and turn them into consumable good and decreases the opportunity cost paralleled with hunting down animals for use. However, this ease of access for humans leads to the suffering of animals. Indeed, these modern practices have been accompanied by an increase in the prominence of animals rights as an issue. In fact, one of the foundations of certain cultures and countries, such as Indian culture, is their diet and the treatment of animals. The debate over animal rights comes down to the current treatment of animals alongside how humans are benefitting from their use, especially within the meat industry.

The use of animals as a source of nutrition is morally acceptable, however, there needs to be a reform to the way that the industry functions. Animals who live a fulfilling life and are eventually killed in a humane way provide more benefit to the human species. Although celebrated utilitarians have argued that the meat industry must be completely eradicated, they fail to acknowledge that there is a way to use animals as food without their current suffering. 

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Utilitarianism is a moral theory that focuses on the consequences of actions in order to determine the moral standing and acceptability of an issue or event. Utilitarianists use a calculation of the good caused by an outcome versus the bad or negative caused and weigh those two against each other. In the issue of animal rights, one question that often arises is whether animals are to count as equal to humans in the calculation or not. Both Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, prominent utilitarians, reveal that they are because it has been proven that they have the capacity to feel both pleasure and pain and therefore endure suffering. This characteristic classifies them as sentient beings, a characteristic that the human species possesses as well. Therefore, in the calculation of the good and bad of an outcome, animals are to be weighed the same as humans. Placing animals below ourselves or weighing them as less would result in speciesism and discrimination since they are falsely being treated as a lesser species.

For humans, the benefit that comes from the suffering and killing of these animals is simply enjoyment and the pleasure we receive from the taste – it is not essential to survival. Bentham and Singer correctly argue that the suffering that animals currently endure outweighs the benefit that humans receive from such suffering. But they also get an important element wrong. Their conclusion is that humans should resort to veganism in order to eliminate the suffering that animals experience through the meat industry. This argument fails, however, to recognize change that could and should occur within the industry – change that would make the eating of animals an acceptable end. It is possible to raise animals in such a way that they undergo nearly no suffering throughout their life. Raising animals without small cages or confinement and ensureing that they live a life of freedom and well-being allows that animal to experience the best life with as little suffering as possible.

New policies within the meat industry can make the change to a morally permissible manner of using animals as a source of food for humans. Within our current meat industry, animals are confined to small cages, isolation, surgery, and chemicals. These factors all produce a product of meat that is cheaper than the cost it would take to eliminate the suffering of animals. Without the use of these methods, suppliers would have to buy more land, invest in cleaner facilities, and give in to the natural death or sickness of their product. However, in weighing animals with the same value of humans, the suffering of such sentient beings is worth no monetary cost or loss of income. The meat and animals that the producers use does not lose its value if the animals die through natural causes. Allowing the animals to live fulfilling lives and then using the meat and parts of the animals after it has died through a natural process still leads to the same benefit to humans as they enjoy the meat they demand without the negative impacts on the animals. With this reform, there would be no suffering inflicted on the animals by humans, and lead to a morally permissible industry. If an animal has died through a humane and moral process, it would in fact produce less good for the community to not use the meat. 

A counter argument to this may state that there is no way that a rate of death caused by nature will be able to keep up with the growing demand. One simple solution, although it may take time, is to encourage the population growth of the animals. Animals serve many more purposes than providing the meat achieved through death. They serve a source of milk, organic manure, clothing and blankets, medicine, security, transport, work, and many other things that are beneficial to humans. Not only would the increase in population benefit the animals themselves as they are able to live a more pleasureful life and interact more with their species unlike when they are in cages, it would also benefit the human race in more ways than the use of them as food would.

Reform to the meat industry is essential to the industry’s own moral stability, although the idea is overlooked in many debates and statements by utilitarians. Plenty of animals live a life not negatively affected by humans, and there is no reason we can not bring this same idea to the food industry with a little time and a lot of conscious thought. Utilitarianism is a powerful tool in the moral assessment of this issue. We just have to implement the theory correctly.. Change is something that the meat industry and the animals victim to it demand, and it is our job to bring about this change in a thoughtful, passionate, and realistic manner. 

Works cited

  1. Bentham, J. (1823). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. Clarendon Press.
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2017). The State of Food and Agriculture 2017: Leveraging Food Systems for Inclusive Rural Transformation. FAO.
  3. Francione, G. L. (1996). Rain without thunder: The ideology of the animal rights movement. Temple University Press.
  4. Norwood, F. B., & Lusk, J. L. (2011). Compassion, by the pound: The economics of farm animal welfare. Oxford University Press.
  5. Singer, P. (1975). Animal liberation: A new ethics for our treatment of animals. Random House.
  6. Singer, P. (1990). Animal liberation and the new enlightenment. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 71(2), 87-90.
  7. Stevens, M. (2011). Vegetarianism and animal ethics in contemporary Buddhism. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 18, 28-56.
  8. The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). Farm animal welfare.
  9. United Nations Environment Programme. (2010). Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials. UNEP.
  10. Vandevijvere, S., Dominick, C., Devi, A., & Swinburn, B. (2015). The healthy food environment policy index: findings of an expert panel in New Zealand. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 93(5), 294-302A.
  11. West, J. B. (2017). Saint Francis and the Wolf: A Historical Perspective on the Economics of Animals and Climate Change. Fordham Envtl. L. Rev., 28, 1.

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