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I recently read the book "The End of Animal Farming" by Jacy Reese and in the book there is a strong critique against "humane" farms that I personally did not find very convincing. I wanted to ask the opinion/sources of others to several points made in the book:

  1. In "humane" farms animal still suffer => sure I guess it is not a perfect life but do the animals have, in their whole lives, negative net well being? or are their QALYs in life negative so that it is for them better not to be born?
  2. "Humane" farms are worse for the environment than than standard animal farms => that sounds true, because for example the animals by living longer, produce more methane, ... My question here is if anybody has reliable numbers for the greenhouse gases from "humane" farms. It would be interesting to know how much worse they are and how are it would be to offset these emissions
  3. The author in the book also mentions that in "humane" farms the animals are more often sick (since they do not take antibiotics, ...) and he mentions a case of a farm where many birds had cases of Marek's and they were partially blind with swollen abdomens, ... since only one case is depicted on the book I would like to know if this is a general thing in "humane" farms or the example in the book was an isolated case. Any source would be welcome :)




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Is the question (a) whether it is better to support "humane" farms than to support typical factory farms, or (b) whether it is better to support "humane" animal farms than to support the creation of plant-based or other animal-free foods?

Based on my experience working on animal welfare issues, I would say (a) it is generally better to support farms that have improved animal welfare rather than to support typical factory farms, but (b) it's still probably best to support creating plant-based or animal-free foods, since life on any factory farm still stinks.

A note of caution and clarification about terminology: The word "humane," and the concept of humane meat, eggs, or dairy, are very broad, and can have multiple meanings. That's why I tried to rephrase the question to talk about farms that treat their animals better than typical factory farms, versus farms that don't. I didn't read the book, and without context, I'm not sure what someone means by "humane." Here's why:

Sometimes food sold as "humane" is just normal factory farmed food. Sometimes, in other words, the term is a trick. In a practice that animal welfare advocates call "humane washing," a company sells products made at a typical factory farm, but markets the products in a way that tricks consumers into thinking the animals were treated better than they really were. An example of this would be if you were to see the word "cage-free" written on chicken meat. All chickens raised for meat are kept in cage-free factory farms. (The chickens who are forced to live in cages are the ones used to produce eggs, not the ones used to produce meat.) So talking about "cage-free" chicken meat would be deceptive humane washing. "Cage-free" chicken meat would be no better than any other chicken meat. Another example would probably be any package that literally says "humane" on it. My understanding is that a lot of companies think the word "humane" is so vague that they can get away with using it even when the animals in their factories aren't treated any better than animals in typical factory farms. For example, California used to advertise that its milk came from "happy" cows, even though there was no factual basis for that. 

But there are some factory farms that actually do treat their animals a little better than other factory farms. For instance, if you were to see an egg package that said "cage-free," the birds used to make those eggs were treated a little less cruelly than the birds used to make eggs that don't bare the "cage-free" label. Because instead of being kept in tiny battery cages so small that they can't even spread their wings, the birds used to make cage-free eggs can walk around a little bit. That said, they're still kept in crowded factory farms. This is just one of many examples of how companies sometimes actually tell the truth about treating their animals a little better than other companies. Other examples would be "crate-free pork," or a "global animal partnership certification."

If you are trying to figure out whether certain products are actually more humane than typical factory farmed products or not, I'd recommend looking up any claims used at this website: https://awionline.org/content/consumers-guide-food-labels-and-animal-welfare, or other similar websites put out by animal advocates. For instance, that website explains that food labeled "global animal partnership" step 4, 5, or 5+ is generally more humanely raised than other food. But it explains that food labeled "humanely raised" isn't.

So in my opinion, the question is too complicated to give a simple answer to. But if I had to summarize, I'd say (a) it is possible for factory farms to improve the lives of their animals, and that is a good thing, but (b) it would be better for animals if there were no more factory farms at all.

"life on any factory farm still stinks" - the term "humane farm" means to me not a factory farm, but one with actual net positive animal welfare (at least). Though I don't know if that's how it's used in the book. From my reading about UK high-end organic farming, it seems to me that beef cows and pigs could have positive welfare overall, and so could chickens if their density were reduced even further than in organic systems. I'm not sure about sheep - it sounds like their lives may just be hard.

That makes sense.  The reason I tried to break down the various meanings that the word 'humane' can have is exactly this: It is a confusing word, which is often used with the goal of deceiving. The whole point is to mean different things to different people. Companies  use the concept of 'humane farming' to make consumers think of old-fashioned, pasture-based farms where animals roam freely. It is a marketing term. But in reality, most of the time that a company talks about its farm being 'humane,' at least in the US, the company is actually still talking about a factory farm.  In the US (the only country I'm familiar with), the vast majority of meat comes from factory farms. Even "cage-free" or "free-range"  meat usually comes from a factory farm.  Sometimes, 'humane farming' refers to factory farms that treat their animals a little better than the typical factory farm, and sometimes it just refers to a typical factory farm. So I personally don't think 'humane farming' a very useful concept for us to try to talk about. In my experience, when animal advocates talk about 'humane farms,' they are doing it with the goal of being sarcastic or disparaging. Their goal is basically to criticize certain farms for deceiving consumers. Perhaps that is why the book used the term, but again, I didn't read it. Those animal advocates who are focused on improving the treatment of animals in farms don't usually talk about "humane farming," in my experience. Instead, we would talk about 'less cruel' methods of production, or we would talk about specific practices that a farm has eliminated, like the use of battery cages or gestation crates. As for non-factory-farms: I'm not actually sure what the best term for them is, since they come up so rarely in my work. Maybe you could call them "pasture-based farms,"  "old-fashioned farms," "small-scale farms"?
Yeah OK, the US seems a lot worse for this. UK organic (Soil Association) standards seem to be the best or nearly the best in the world as far as I know (but only a small fraction of meat is produced that way).

Hi alene, 

thanks for your reply. My question was not really (a) nor (b) but I think they are related. 

Here again my questions:

  1. In "humane" farms the animals have, in their whole lives, negative net well being?  are their QALYs in life negative so that it is for them better not to be born? 
  2. My question here is if anybody has reliable numbers for the greenhouse gases from "humane" farms. It would be interesting to know how much worse they are and how hard it would be to offset these emissions
  3. I would like to know if it is a general thing in
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'in "humane" farms the animals are more often sick (since they do not take antibiotics, ...)'

It sounds like the book is referring to organic farms, which are not necessarily as humane as could be possible, for reasons like this. I've read about UK organic farms and it seems that disease rates can be relatively low even without antibiotics due to using lower stocking densities. For sheep it's a problem, though, because they can't help encountering germs in their environment. There's nothing to stop a truly humane farm from using antibiotics, though.

Thanks for the reply. Yeah reading the book I got the impression that the example the author uses could be an isolated one and it was not everywhere like that. However, I also did not find easy to find statistics on the problem in internet. But your response seems more accurate than what it is presented in the book

I only just saw your reply. Here's a (fairly old) report that discusses organic farming in the UK, including management of disease, that may be useful - though note it was sponsored by a organic-promoting organisation, but it does include criticism and doesn't just seem to be a piece of marketing: http://charliepyesmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2003/01/Batteries-not-included.pdf . I don't know of any other thorough reports - it would be useful if there were more. 

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