Guardian UK columnist George Monbiot, who expressed support for veganism, has recanted his support and, in an editorial entitled, I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly, Monbiot jumps on the “happy” meat bandwagon.
I wrote a brief comment that was posted on the Guardian website:
Dear Mr. Monbiot:
I have three comments:
First, putting aside whether Fairlie is right about the environmental issues, you are missing a fundamental point: the consumption of animal flesh and products cannot be justified as a moral matter apart from environmental considerations. Think about it. We all agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on sentient beings is morally wrong. We can argue about what “necessity” means, but if it means anything at all, it must mean that we cannot inflict suffering and death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. But those are the only arguments that exist in favor of consuming animal products. No one maintains that eating animal products is necessary for human health (quite the contrary) and animal agriculture is still a significant ecological problem even if Fairlie is right. The only justification that we have for inflicting pain, suffering, and death on 56 billion animals (not counting fish) is that they taste good and we enjoy eating them.
If that constitutes a moral justification, then animals have no moral value and we should just acknowledge that they are outside the moral community altogether rather than hypocritically maintaining a moral principle about unnecessary suffering and death that is wholly without meaning.
Second, I have yet to read Fairlie’s book but your description of his environmental arguments makes it appear that his analysis of the issues is questionable at best.
Third, your position that we ought to make animal production more “humane” is unbelievably naive. Animals are property; they are economic commodities. They have no inherent value. Animal welfare reforms provide very little protection to animal interests and If you looked at the history of animal welfare reforms, you would see that, for the most part, they do little beyond making animal production more economically efficient. These are reforms that industry would have implemented anyway. Consider the move away from veal crates. Veal crates increase animal stress and result in higher veterinary costs; small group units decrease costs and do not lower meat quality. The same analysis supports moving away from gestation crates for pigs, adopting controlled-atmosphere killing of poultry, etc.
The economic inefficiencies of intensive agriculture, which developed in the 1950s, are becoming increasingly clear. There will be changes in factory farming and some of these changes may arguably provide a marginal welfare benefit to animals. But that is all that will happen. Large animal groups in the US and UK, which make millions off promoting these inevitable reforms, turn these small changes into big campaigns for “humane” treatment and that makes people think that progress is being made.
Could animal welfare standards be much better? Sure-in theory. Any significant departure from intensive agriculture would mean much higher costs and given the reality of global markets and the inability to stop import of lower welfare products, it’s simply not realistic. Moreover, if consumers (or rather, those affluent consumers who could afford it) cared enough to pay the much higher costs that would be involved, they would probably care enough about animals as a moral matter not to eat them at all.
In any event, even if animal welfare standards increased dramatically, our treatment of animals would still represent torture if humans were involved. Water boarding someone on a padded board is marginally better than using an unpadded board but it is still torture.
There is no way to do animal agriculture in a way required to feed billions (even if they consumed fewer animal products) without inflicting torture on animals. I am astounded that you apparently think to the contrary and have jumped on the “happy meat/animal products” bandwagon.
Thank you for your consideration of my comments.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
Newark, New Jersey
It is sad to see a progressive person like George Monbiot buy into this welfarist, reactionary nonsense.
Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione