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The Animal Cruelty Mills

Via Andrew Sullivan [1], that is a likely NSFW undercover video showing how pigs are treated in factory farms — in this case, a factory pig farm that services Wal-mart. Pigs are kept in cages so small they cannot turn around, and can barely comfortably lay down. They live their entire lives that way. This is a short video, but unbearable to watch. If you can’t watch it, though, what does that tell you?

We support that, you and I, when we buy factory-farmed meat. Mary Eberstadt, in her introduction to For Love of Animals [2], Christian theologian Charles Camosy’s new book about animal welfare, says this is evil, [3] and something that pro-life Christians must come to terms with. Excerpt:

For Love of Animals applies the specific lens of Catholic teaching about social justice, pointing out among other details that the Catechism itself says that animals are owed moral treatment. Its author is surely right to attribute the horrors of factory farming, in particular, to an ethic of feckless consumption according to which more is better, all the time. It is rampant and unexamined Western consumerism, more than anything else, that “disconnect[s] us from the process by which pig meat gets on our plate.” I would add to that analysis the friendly amendment that this same consumerism encourages the formation of a habit that is suspect wherever and whenever it appears, but that chronically gets a pass where animals are involved: i.e., a practiced desire to remain ignorant of those things about which we wish not to know.

Of course reasonable and good people will disagree about some of what’s discussed in these pages. Moreover, as the author emphasizes, fundamental cultural change takes time — lots of it. But surely every reader, Christian or otherwise, will agree upon putting down this book that in the matter of animals, lines ought to be drawn and distinctions ought to be made that aren’t currently part of our Western moral topography — and need to be.

Eberstadt goes on to talk about how she gave up eating meat for good after she couldn’t come up with a good answer to Matthew Scully’s question, in his great book Dominion [4]: If you can’t bring yourself to kill the animal, how do you bring yourself to eat it?

I love meat. Love. It. But I have killed a deer, and squirrels, and felt deep revulsion at myself for it. To be clear, I do not believe hunting is wrong, or meat-eating is immoral. Yet I lack the moral courage to kill what I eat. Scully’s question is a bone in my throat.

71 Comments (Open | Close)

71 Comments To "The Animal Cruelty Mills"

#1 Comment By arrScott On November 5, 2013 @ 7:49 am

Rod in a comment response hits on an important point that I’ve longed to make into a bumper sticker: Wheat is Murder. Also, Bread is Dead. Which doesn’t excuse animal cruelty, nor does it negate moral vegetarianism. But possibly the most important “natural truth” that must inform all moral thought is that the life of all organisms in the kingdom Animalia depends on killing and consuming other living things. We kill and eat, or we die. (Well, we also kill and eat, and then die, but ceasing to kill and eat will bring immediate death.)

If killing a living thing is impermissibly cruel, then human life is morally impossible. Similarly, any ethic that mitigates some cruelty (to animals, say) but disregards other cruelty (to plants, for example) is incomplete. Intensive factory farming of plant crops places stress on plants akin in magnitude to the stresses that intensive factory farming imposes on animals. (And yet I drink wine, despite viniculture depending on placing grape vines under extraordinary, unnatural stress to cultivate grapes with qualities of size and chemical composition that would not naturally occur. Wine is the foie gras of plants, and I know it, and I’m not giving it up. See Eberstadt on the sin of choosing not to know.)

Anyway, it seems plausible to me that mitigating animal cruelty ought to be a higher or more immediate priority than mitigating plant cruelty, for pragmatic reasons. But an ethic that stops at, “No animals died to give me life,” is incomplete and therefore complicit in cruelty at an industrial scale. The question is not whether we will kill to live, but what we kill, and how.

#2 Comment By Dan Berger On November 5, 2013 @ 8:53 am

I agree that we eat too much meat, but not necessarily that we should eat no meat. Humans evolved as predators, and good ones at that. The last Scientific American has an article pointing out that diversity among large African predators dropped drastically right about the time that Homo started hunting seriously. Our digestive systems and physiologies are designed for animal protein and fats. (They also are designed for regular, vigorous exercise; and we’re omnivores, not hypercarnivores like cats.)

On the other hand, [5] compared to plant foods. That’s a serious problem, and I need to convince the better half that chicken is probably the way to go, even as the price of pork loin continues to drop because of the high demand for bacon.

As to the commentary here, I think MH’s comment about the lack of free-range programmers wins the internet today.

#3 Comment By The Wet One On November 5, 2013 @ 9:29 am


What does “consciousness” have to do with it? The plants clearly have no interest in being eaten or else they wouldn’t behave the way they do. Do humans make a conscious decision to coagulate their blood so they don’t die?

Same idea.

If plants were A-ok with being eaten, they wouldn’t take any steps to defend themselves. Period. The fact they do take steps (elaborate and deadly steps in many cases) demonstrates quite clearly that they don’t want to die. It’s staring you squarely in the face Hector. Open your eyes.

The continuance of life requires death and suffering. That’s just the way it is. Open your eyes.

#4 Comment By sdb On November 5, 2013 @ 9:49 am

I’m not sure I could cut someone open to perform a heart transplant. I’m pretty sure that even something as simple as inserting a catheter would be pretty tough. But I’m glad that there are people who do this on a more or less daily basis. Then there is the stuff people working for family services have to do…again, I’m not sure I could do it, but I’m glad there are people who can. The fact that I couldn’t bring myself to perform surgery or take a crying child away from dangerous household doesn’t really bring up any moral qualms for me. I’m not sure why my difficulty with killing an animal myself would either. I don’t endorse unnecessarily mistreating animals, but this is just one more example of how the moral reasoning by Scully is not very sound.

#5 Comment By Richard Johnson On November 5, 2013 @ 10:07 am

“Did you know that programmers are kept in small pens all day and never see daylight? Nor are they allowed to roam free as their ancestors would have done.”

Indeed! In the past programmers were housed in climate controlled rooms with air specially cleaned and cooled. The electricity they had available to them was closely regulated, having been “cleaned” by passing through several filters and battery backup units. They were provided an array of the finest of foods and drinks: Mountain Dew, Jolt, Frito Corn Chips and Zebra Cakes, among others.

People could only approach these programmers with special passes called JCL cards, and had to queue in lines to await their audience with the programmers. Often they were forced to submit their requests to a mere operator or data entry clerk, but every now and then one of the Programmers would hold audience directly with the assembled masses.

Yes…we used to treat our programmers much better than we do now. But it’s not too late! We can defeat the scourge of confinement programming!

#6 Comment By mrscracker On November 5, 2013 @ 11:03 am

We had an older farmer nearby who raised a few hogs the old-timey way-out of doors in a pen.One day he had a stroke or something & collapsed in the hog pen.By the time someone found his body, there wasn’t a whole lot left of him.
I think Chesterton said Nature was red in tooth & claw.Hogs are omnivores, too.They’ll consume anything that holds still long enough.

[NFR: The other night I went out to put up the chickens. I saw blood in the two bantam hens’ cage, on the ramp up to their coop. I examined the hens carefully to see if either was injured. No problems at all. I don’t usually deal with the chickens, but my wife and the kids were gone that evening, so I was all worried that something terrible had happened. When Julie got home, she said that was probably all that was left of a mouse who strayed into the chicken run. “Chickens will eat anything,” she said. Yow! — RD]

#7 Comment By J DeSales On November 5, 2013 @ 11:08 am

“If plants were A-ok with being eaten, they wouldn’t take any steps to defend themselves.”

Wait, I thought some plants specifically did evolve to be eaten? Take, for example, capsicum peppers – they evolved so that they would be eaten by bird, but not mammals, for the purposes of seed distribution. Just take this paragraph from Wikipedia’s article on fruit: “The sweet flesh of many fruits is ‘deliberately’ appealing to animals, so that the seeds held within are eaten and ‘unwittingly’ carried away and deposited at a distance from the parent. Likewise, the nutritious, oily kernels of nuts are appealing to rodents (such as squirrels) who hoard them in the soil in order to avoid starving during the winter, thus giving those seeds that remain uneaten the chance to germinate and grow into a new plant away from their parent.”

So, by your own logic, it’s alright to eat some plants, right Wet One?

#8 Comment By AEY On November 5, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

“If you can’t bring yourself to kill the animal, how do you bring yourself to eat it.”

@sdb, MH, Anthony, Loudon is a Fool, and sk: Your analogies don’t make any sense. The main issue is not the lack of ability to kill animals (although that is also an issue) but the moral opposition to killing animals. If you refuse to do something out of moral repulsion, but you directly support other people doing the same thing, doesn’t that make you a hypocrite? An apt analogy would be paying someone off to murder an enemy for you. Or a general ordering foot soldiers to carry out a massacre.

In general, we live in strange times, in that folks who don’t know how to hunt, fish, farm, ranch, or gather are somehow still able to eat. We are very lucky indeed.

#9 Comment By Ken T On November 5, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

J DeSales:

“So, by your own logic, it’s alright to eat some plants,…”

Well, I guess if you’re willing to uphold your end of the bargain and – ahem – deposit the seeds …

#10 Comment By mrscracker On November 5, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

[NFR: The other night I went out to put up the chickens. I saw blood in the two bantam hens’ cage, on the ramp up to their coop. I examined the hens carefully to see if either was injured. No problems at all. I don’t usually deal with the chickens, but my wife and the kids were gone that evening, so I was all worried that something terrible had happened. When Julie got home, she said that was probably all that was left of a mouse who strayed into the chicken run. “Chickens will eat anything,” she said. Yow! — RD]
We used to have a mousetrap that caught the mice alive & kept them until you’d release/kill them.If I didn’t get to it quickly enough, the mice would eat each other & there’d just be one left in the trap.
Yes, chickens are basically mini-raptors.They’ll pick on each other,too and sometimes kill new chickens introduced into the pen.

#11 Comment By The Wet One On November 5, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

J DeSales,

I was kinda wondering how long it would be until someone raised that point. Which I concede is an excellent one.

That said, plants adapted to the fact that they’re going to be eaten and evolved ways to exploit that fact. I’m still not sure that this amounts to plants wanting to be eaten, and it certainly doesn’t apply to every plant and certainly not the ones humans depend on most, like wheat, rice and corn.

Ah well. I wasn’t being completely serious with my point in any event, though I bet that wasn’t clear was it? More like playing a devil’s advocate. Plants scream and die for my glorious breakfast, lunches and dinners. Sucks to be a plant. Pretty much the same with domesticated food animals.

The continuance of life requires death. Lots and lots of it. That’s just the way it is. I’m okay with that. It probably doesn’t require industrial scale torture systems, but there’s no getting around the eating and death part, not with the numbers of humans on the planet now. If we could live on fruiting trees alone, you might have a case, but that’s not how humans survive food wise.

#12 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On November 5, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

@AEY, I wasn’t making an analogy. My free range programmer comment was a joke, and I’m glad a few people enjoyed it.

I don’t have any moral issues with killing animals for food, and I’m certain that if I was hungry enough I could do it without any squeamishness.

#13 Comment By sdb On November 5, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

@AEY Rod says that he doesn’t find the act of killing immoral, so the main issue here is not the moral opposition to killing animals.

If you can’t bring yourself to kill the animal, how do you bring yourself to eat it? …I have killed a deer…and felt deep revulsion at myself for it…I do not believe hunting is…immoral. Yet I lack the moral courage to kill what I eat. Scully’s question is a bone in my throat.

Military service is a good analogy. You may think that war is a necessary evil even if you can’t bring yourself to participate. You might realize that someone should kill the bad guy even if you can’t bring yourself to do so. That does not entail that you must condemn others who do or refuse to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

#14 Comment By Ken T On November 5, 2013 @ 1:57 pm


Even though you didn’t name me in your list, I made a similar analogy so I think I can answer.

I think you missed the point. The issue is that there are those, like Matthew Scully referenced in the original post, who (implicitly or outright) accuse anyone who eats meat they haven’t killed themselves of hypocrisy. The point of the analogies is that there are an almost infinite number of things that a modern human reaps the benefit of, that he hasn’t “done” himself. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s just specialization.

You would be correct if any of us were expressing moral outrage about hunting while being meat eaters ourselves, but our point is that we are expressing no such thing. Go ahead and hunt all you want. It isn’t something I choose to do, but I have no objection to you doing it. And if you invite me over for a venison burger, I’ll happily accept.

Moral outrage at inhumane treatment of farm raised animals does not in any way whatsoever imply moral objection to eating meat. They are two separate issues.

#15 Comment By Mike W On November 5, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

This reminds me of a joke I heard the other day. Know how you can tell if someone is a vegetarian?…..wait for it….don’t worry, it’ll be one of the first things they tell you…

#16 Comment By AEY On November 5, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

@Ken T: I didn’t name you because you specifically said that you have no moral objections to hunting. And I agreed with everything else you said as well. The quote starts out “If you can’t bring yourself to…”. This implies a moral dimension, rather than just an issue of convenience or ability. I personally know a lot of people who are repulsed by hunting but who happily eat factory farmed meat all the time. It always strikes me as incredibly odd.

@sdb: In both cases, probably the most we could ask for is a deep amount of reverence, gratitude, and humility. Our lifestyles depend on unseen, unimaginably brutal acts carried out by other people for our benefit. But generally, it’s a good idea to get as much direct experience with the way the world works as possible. Part of being fully human.

@MH: Fair enough. I don’t think the Scully quote applies to you then.

#17 Comment By Annek On November 5, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

mrscracker, Thanks for your response to my post! – Anne

#18 Comment By mrscracker On November 6, 2013 @ 10:31 am

Annek ,
You are welcome.
God bless!
And just FYI, when we raised livestock,we did try to do things as kindly as possible, but you are still, in the end, raising animals for consumption.
Things like castration seem unkind, but if neglected, not only can the meat taste funky, the bull calves & buck lambs will become dangerous to each other & to you.If you’ve ever been chased by a bull, you know what I’m talking about.They’ll skewer you in a heartbeat.

#19 Comment By Marleigh On November 6, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

The moral question here is not about how ethical it is to kill and eat animals, or plants, or dirt, or whatever. The quandary exists in the fact that people willingly participate in a system that is wantonly, deliberately cruel for the sake of saving money. People buy pork at Wal-Mart because it is cheap and convenient, and we don’t have to see the animal suffer. We put money before our Christian duty of compassion and stewardship. But if faced with the choice between watching your pet dog slowly starve to death because of a medical condition or taking it to the vet to be put down, most people have no problem spending the money, even at the expense of things they would like more.

In the words of Wendell Berry: “What we are talking about here is an elaborate understanding of charity. It is so elaborate because of the perception, implicit here, explicit in the New Testament, that charity by its nature cannot be selective—that it is, so to speak, out of human control. It cannot be selective because between any two humans, or any two creatures, all Creation exists as a bond. Charity cannot be just human, any more than it can be just Jewish or just Samaritan. …

That is not to suggest that we can live harmlessly, or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” —The Gift of Good Land

#20 Comment By Ann Olivier On November 7, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

Does anyone know of an organization that specifically targets the brutal practices of the slaughter houses? I’ve looked in the past but found none. There was one in California, but it limited its activities to CA.

I support the national SPCA, and it does some work to change the practices, but I’m looking for a national organization that focuses on helping big agri animals.

#21 Pingback By Are pets Christian? – In my anguish… On January 31, 2016 @ 1:31 am

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