A recent post in the EA Forum describes (quite fatalistically) how animalistic legislation is held back by the farming lobbies. While this seems quite likely, the interests of (moderate) animalists and farmers are aligned.

First I want to describe what I mean by a “moderate animalist”. A moderate animalist is an animalist that does not care for animal life but cares for animal suffering (Bentham animalism).

This is mostly my position: I believe that personal identity (the persistence of the self across time) strongly depends on human language. In my view animals are “undifferentiated conscience”, while humans are to a large extent irreplaceable beings. Human existence is permanently oriented towards the future, and death implies the frustration of valuable future plans. However, suffering, and especially excruciating suffering is commensurable between large vertebrates and humans and its avoidance is a moral imperative. This position, of course, is purely axiomatic, because with epiphenomenal conscience, we really do not know and cannot know. 

Regarding farmers, their economic sector is caught between increasing productivity and saturation of demand (the Engle curve), and consequently agriculture and husbandry have been losing weight in GDP since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. From the perspective of farmers, animal welfare requirements are an opportunity to increase their share of the GDP. This is exactly the same situation as that for the energy-producing sectors as consequence of climate change: the need to decarbonize is a clear boon to utilities, and now the industry is very supportive of “Net Zero”.

Unfortunately, there is an important difference between both cases: the international competition that utilities face is almost nonexistent, whereas farmers suffer from external competition. They rightfully fear that welfare requirements will only affect local producers, and their net result would simply be losing their market share.

Consequently, the animalist lobby shall focus above all in fighting international competition to local farmers. All the arguments that support free trade for activities that are considered welfare improving are reversed for welfare-reducing activities. 

Once external competition is removed, while individual interest is to ignore animal welfare restrictions, the common interest of the sector is that these rules are passed and enforced (for the same reasons that electric utilities welcome climate targets). 

As I have commented in this post, in my view the best possible animal welfare intervention is the design of “best practices” and certifications for animal welfare. There is increasing awareness of animal suffering, and before government intervention, private practice on “humane husbandry” would be useful by itself and would be a well proven blueprint for government intervention. Farmers that benefit by producing “ethical premium” products would soon be a powerful lobby among farmers. They will never support the elimination of animal exploitation, but their interests are those of a trust that uses regulation to maximize profits: better than the extreme efficiency of current farming. 

As commented in that post, the main problem here is political and ideological: “Therefore, if we had a credible certification of the level of animal suffering in each product, omnivorous diets could be reshuffled to have a lower impact in terms of animal welfare. But there is a large institutional vacuum: the meat industry has no interest nor credibility, and the animalist organizations are vegan, and in the best of cases only willing to fight for animal welfare measures imposed by governments.”. Only Effective Altruism can fill this void.





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