Home Box Office recently aired a documentary, Death on a Factory Farm. The documentary concerns an undercover investigation of the Wiles Hog Farm in Ohio. The investigator, who worked for the Humane Farming Association, secretly filmed the hideous treatment of the animals and brought his evidence to the local prosecutor, who filed ten criminal charges against Wiles, his son, and an employee.
The outcome of the prosecution? Only one charge resulted in conviction. The punishment? A $250 fine and required training in pig handling and transportation. The defendants and other farmers who supported the defendants argued that the practices depicted in the documentary were not criminal and represented “the commonplace reality of producing livestock for consumption.”
And they were right.
What is depicted in the documentary is, indeed, nothing short of torture. But what happened at the Wiles Farm was no different from what transpires on every large factory farm. What was depicted in the documentary is commonplace. If you ate pork last night, that animal was subjected to more or less the same sort of treatment.
That is why animal advocates should not support the efforts of animal welfare organizations to make animal exploitation more “humane.” Animal exploitation on the scale needed to feed even a small portion of the world’s human population cannot be made more “humane” in any significant way. The economics of production and the property status of animals make it impossible–not just difficult–impossible. We would, of course, still have to deal with the moral question of whether animal use can be justified irrespective of how “humane” it is, but we can be assured that it will never be “humane” because it will always involve a significant degree of torture.
Welfarist reforms such as California’s Proposition 2 or the campaign in favor of gassing chickens are similar to putting pretty wallpaper in a torture chamber. Just as the wallpaper may make those inflicting the torture feel better about their surroundings, these reforms make those who exploit animals–and that includes everyone who supports the demand by consuming flesh, dairy, eggs, etc.–feel better about the fact that they consume animals. Just as the wallpaper does nothing of any significance for the human victims of torture, the window dressing of animal welfare reforms does little for the animal victims of torture.
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