Hide table of contents

So I am thinking about factory farming, and especially about the lives of the animals that are getting farmed. I have heard from multiple sources, and I'm guessing you heard it as well, that A LOT of the animals in factory farms are suffering, I believe this to be true, but when I think about it, I am not very certain about it, and I don't really know much details about it either. 

Now I have watched some documentaries about it like "dominion" and "cowspiracy", that show videos from factories, where the conditions look awful and the animals seem to suffer greatly, and when I see that, I'm pretty convinced that it would be better if those animals on the videos would not be born. What I don't know on the other hand is how representative those videos are, but my guess is actually that they are not very representative. I believe that the creator of the documentaries wants to convey the message that it is horrible for the animals, and because of that, they cherrypick the films from the worst factories and the ones that look most horrible. Then, to get another view on it, I instead go to the webpage of the brand of meat that I usually buy, and they tell me there that all of their animals live a very good life. Now, these two pictures are basically the complete opposite, and I feel like I can't trust either of them.

So the question I want to be answered is "What, more exactly, have the animal that I can buy in the supermarket gone through?", like in what ways did it suffer, if any? This will of course depend on what specific product you buy, but right now I have no idea of any of the meat products I buy. I feel that I can't really make an informed decision of whether or not I should become a vegan without this knowledge, and I'm not sure how to get it. My guess is that they suffer, and they suffer enough to make it motivated to be vegan, but if someone would tell me "no actually, factory-farmed animals do not suffer!", then I don't know how to argue against that.

What are your thoughts? please help me!




New Answer
New Comment

3 Answers sorted by

I recommend https://welfarefootprint.org/

They do literature reviews, quantify and summarize the main sources of suffering for various farmed animals.

I wrote these two comments about farmed chickens based on their work: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/3EimeEtikzrTusqYy/animal-welfare-ea-and-personal-dietary-options?commentId=f8MsonDHxHRTvSb25

(Disclaimer: I'm from an animal advocacy group and working in the field for over 10 years.)

Just a point on how the footage from farms is representative, based on your point about not trusting them.

I think you are correct to be skeptical to some of the claims made by documentaries, I feel like some are exaggerating and trying to increase the weight of the claims to make the documentary more appealing. Apart from my personal problem with bending the truth, it's also, I quite confidently think, a bad long-term strategy for the movement. But it highly depends on the filmmaker.

But I really want to note that it's very hard to convey the message to the public about the conditions that animals live in. You may expect that the more brutal footage the better, but it's not the case. We do investigations without knowledge of farm owners (you can check our footage here - https://animainternational.org/resources/investigations - and use it if needed!) and very often we have to use the less inhumane conditions, because our data shows that on average most people are not receptive to faithfully brutal material. It has to be the milder content with enough context for people to sympathize with animals. So you may expect "cherry-picking" in a different direction that you are worried about in terms of them being representative.

There is also an unsurprising problem of not understanding specie welfare needs and animals not showing their suffering in a human's perception compatible way (especially if these are not mammals), so you may see a picture of an animal without any wounds, but it may be in a great suffering because of behavioral needs deprivation (example - repetitive behavior). This is very hard to convey.

So for me, quantitative assessments of suffering between species in farming conditions is the best tool to understand whether animals suffer and to which degree. But I'll add personally that there is an intuition that you get by working with footage/being on farms/working in field that is sometimes hard to capture just by looking at literature (kinda in a similar direction as a point about ground visits when distributing bednets made here). I also wonder how measurement is skewing the results sometimes.

Generally, my bet is that the more data we will get, the more it will show animals suffer more than we expected. My very strong view is that there is sufficient information and it's mostly due to biases that make us discriminate needs of other beings welfare that some people remain undecided on this issue (i.e. we treat interests of non-similar beings to us as less important - animals, future people, digital minds, etc. based on evolutionary heuristics instead of reasoning). That is, unless someone has Yudkowsky's view of sentience with which I strongly disagree (or to be more correct - I disagree with my understanding of that view), but seems logical and coherent to me.

You might be interested in an Adversarial Collaboration I wrote on this topic a few years ago. My collaborator was a meat-eater who was very strong on finding representative statistics (in fact he wrote the first draft of Section 2.2 to keep me extra-honest)


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Here (https://thehumaneleague.org/animals) you'll find many articles on the subject. For example, this one: What really happens on a chicken farm.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities