It’s all very “science-based,” and mass confinement worked out just great for Murphy, who retired a rich man in a spacious mansion (nothing like room to roam); great for contract farmers, who don’t have to worry any more about details like tending herds or basic veterinary care (high attrition being part of the model, just drag all the dead ones into the “cull pen”); and, above all, great for lovers of pork chops, bacon, and ham, who get more for less. There’s just the one downside that pig farms, in North Carolina and now the world over, resemble concentration camps, complete with barbed wire to keep away the curious, and consumers find it upsetting to hear what’s really going on at Murphy Family Farms, Happy Valley Farms, Smithfield Farms, and all the rest of these morally fraudulent enterprises with their countrified brand names. Years of reform efforts by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups have sought, with success here and there, to restore a modicum of mercy to the industry, and the pork producers’ associations fight at every turn because — maybe you guessed — there’s no “turning back the clock on modern agriculture.”
Other factory farmers had meanwhile been dispensing with similar inconveniences in similar fashion, with the very modern outlook that they’re going to do the worst to the animals anyway, in killing them, so what does it really matter what happens before then? A quarter-million chickens might fill a single facility
, with more scenes of privation and squalor even as factory farmers still boast of their “flocks” — which are tended, as all across livestock agriculture, by unskilled and often illegal workers who are held in almost as little regard as the animals. In like manner, cattle blood is fed to calves as a replacement for mother’s milk, so that humans can drink the milk, and the rendered remains of herbivores are fed to other herbivores — more cost-savers, never mind cannibalism, infectious agents, and other bright-line barriers of nature that would have caught the attention of any sane person not caught up in the culture of cruelty. “Downers
” — dairy cows and other farm animals too sick or lame even to walk to their own death — for years have been beaten, prodded, and lifted or dragged to slaughter by bulldozers, and it still happens in disregard of minimal regulatory safeguards. How dare they slow down the line? “A cow’s a piece of machinery,” as one industrial dairy farmer expresses the spirit. “If it’s broke, we try to fix it, and if we can’t, it gets replaced.”
With all the nervous evasion of apologists for abortion after Dr. Gosnell’s fetal slaughterhouse was revealed, factory farmers say of such cruelties, when the scenes are captured on film, that these are “extreme cases,” not at all representative of normal standards. But there are no standards; such minimal regulations as apply go unenforced, and the extreme in both industries is the essence of the enterprise, above all in the treatment of new life. Hundreds of millions of male chicks, of no use to the egg farmers because they can’t lay eggs or grow fast enough to be sold for meat, are hatched into the world every year with only “instantaneous euthanasia” awaiting them, meaning a conveyer-belt ride, alive and fully conscious, into the grinder. This is considered an acceptable cost of egg production, and the practice, we’re assured, is “supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community,” which itself has been corrupted by the money and influence of agribusiness. No matter what new perversion of animal husbandry the industry might devise, it can always count on the sign-off of friendly veterinarians, as true to their oath (“to promote animal health and welfare, to relieve animal suffering”) as Dr. Gosnell was to the Hippocratic oath.
Among its other wisdom about empathy for animals, Catholic teaching here advises: “We are bound to act toward them in a manner comfortable to their nature.” And even in our secular age, one is hard put to think of any principle of Christian moral conduct so thoroughly or casually disregarded. That single injunction, were it actually applied, would go a long way toward ridding us of cruelty in general and especially of the factory farm. There, as in the abortion clinic, every good instinct of humanity, every alarm that nature can sound, says, “Don’t do this.” But on it goes, all of this and more, and least of all can pieties about mankind’s unique moral stature be used to cover the offense and discourage reform — as if our august status means that other creatures are nothing, or that we humans are just too “exceptional” to be bothered.
“PROTECTING CONSUMER CHOICE”
Radical cruelty by some inspires radical kindness in others. There are so many vegetarians and vegans already today — along with millions who refuse, at least, to buy factory-farm products — only because livestock farming in our time is so abhorrent. It is true, as author Mary Eberstadt writes, that factory farming and similar abuses of the animal world are “simultaneously morally urgent and widely ignored by many people, including and inexplicably by many well-meaning but hitherto under-informed Christians.” There is, she observes, “a practiced desire to remain ignorant of those things about which we wish not to know,” a temptation that pro-lifers should be the first to recognize. But this, too, is changing, among people of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds. A highly regarded thinker in conservative circles, Eberstadt offers these points in the foreword to an excellent new book by Fordham scholar Charles Camosy, For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action — signs that serious people are starting to address these things in a serious way.