Drain: The End of Factory Farming

We must take greater action against factory farming.

by James Drain | 3/31/17 12:30am

Over the last century, we have seen a blossoming expansion of human rights across race, age, class, sexuality and gender. Once upon a time, three-fourths of all people were enslaved, but human slavery is now illegal in every country in the world. In his tour de force “The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” Steven Pinker documents in painstaking detail how the murder rate has fallen since the Middle Ages by almost 95 percent, how child abuse has halved since the 1990s and how the rate at which animals are harmed during the production of movies has fallen by 90 percent since the animal rights revolution in the 1970s.

In absolute terms, that last statistic means that around 500 animals have been kept from being hurt. Meanwhile, Pinker is numerically silent on the roughly hundreds of billions of animals that have been raised and slaughtered in U.S. factory farms during that same timespan. Statistically speaking, if you are a land animal born in the U.S., then the odds of you being a privileged human being versus an animal that will will spend its entire life without seeing sunlight breathing ammonia-choked air until the day you are slaughtered for food are one-to-2,000.

It is amazingly easy to ignore this injustice. I didn’t make the connection that eating meat caused animal suffering until one of my most inspiring vegan friends made me want to read “Animal Liberation” to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that crueler farming techniques have increased over the last century in tandem with our removal from face-to-face interactions with farm animals. If you are willing to confront the reality (and unwilling to spend several hours reading “Animal Liberation”), then I recommend you watch the four-minute video “What Cody Saw.” It’s about a man who worked in factory farms as an undercover investigator to see if the horror was as bad as he had heard. (Spoiler: Cody later earned a law degree to lobby on the behalf of farm animals and to star in pro-animal mini-documentaries).

While no longer sharing Pinker’s blind spot, I do share his optimism. In one of the few pieces of good news from the election, Massachusetts outlawed gestation crates and battery cages in a remarkable 78 percent landslide. Most animal activists believe that these kinds of legislative victories are the most promising route to eliminating farm animal suffering. But what can an individual do beyond vote every couple years?

The easiest action is simply to eat fewer animal products. Indeed, based on the statistics I mentioned earlier, a vegetarian can expect to spare around 2,000 factory farm animals over his or her lifetime just by virtue of diet.

An even more significant action is to donate to animal charities. The effective altruism group Animal Charity Evaluators has evaluated over 200 such charities and written reviews of 30 standout organizations, including groups that are researching wild animal suffering, campaigning for extension of human rights to apes, synthesizing lab-grown meat, conducting undercover investigations and lobbying for legal reform. It’s very hard to quantify how many animals a donor will save by giving an extra dollar to one of these organizations, but ACE has tried. Its 90 percent confidence interval estimates that a dollar donated to top-tier charity Mercy for Animals will spare between 10 and 80 animals from factory farms. These philanthropic opportunities are available because animal charity funds are grossly misallocated: currently 99.6 percent of all animals killed by humans in the U.S. are slaughtered in farms, and yet only 0.8 percent of all donations to animal charities go toward groups fighting for farm animals.

Each of us has the power to bring forward the day when factory farming is illegal, when someone is not condemned to a lifetime of suffering merely because she is a fish, pig or turkey.

Drain is a senior and a member of the Dartmouth Animal Rights Troupe.

The Dartmouth welcomes guest columns. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter.

Submissions may be sent to both opinion@thedartmouth.com and editor@thedartmouth.com. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.