Why Vegans and Animal-Rights Activists Need To Stop Saying "Factory Farming"

March 25, 2020

Once upon a time, the term “factory farming” facilitated progress in the animal rights movement. Most people, even those who regularly consume nonhuman animal bodies and their by-products, are horrified by the realities of industrial animal agriculture. And use of the term “factory farming” has helped raise awareness surrounding these realities.

But this increased awareness has led to a massive shift in marketing.  The animal husbandry industry has worked hard to re-position meat and animal by-products as “ethical.” This helps consumers to maintain their cognitive dissonance. Consumers unknowingly perpetuate the cycle of torture and death via investing in these “ethical” animal-products. Natural and specialty food stores appear proud to supply the demand for “humanely raised” animal products.

Folks who continue to consume nonhuman animal bodies and their by-products, but do so under the guise of “certified humane” branding, no longer feel they are complicit in factory farming. Thus, the term factory farming has lost its utility. This is why I propose we raise awareness within our spaces of activism surrounding points such as the ones below. (This list is obviously not exhaustive, but rather a place to start the conversation.)

“Certified humane” animal products hinder legitimate ethical action.

Because consumers are spared the moral burden of grappling with their purchases, they remain complicit in animal suffering and death. Check out these lawsuits regarding “humane” animal husbandry: Carolyn Claybaugh v. Trader Joes Co.,  PETA v. Nellie’s Free-Range Eggs, and Organic Consumers Association v. Handsome Brook Farms. These are perfect examples of why humane depictions of animal husbandry are dishonest. Animal care standards vary greatly, even among “certified humane” auditing organizations. Often, the standards employed are only marginally better than those of the industrial animal agriculture sector.  Further, these lawsuits confirm that the appellation of “humane” animal products is mere semantics.

Mutilation is permitted under these “humane” labels

“Beak trimming,” formally called “debeaking” (the language has shifted to sound more “humane”!) is a standard practice in rearing egg-laying hens. The poor hens live in such confined quarters that they become distressed and violent with each other. I won’t go into the details of these procedures here.

To justify these procedures, “humane” auditing companies spout paternalistic rhetoric similar to Women’s Protective Anti-Abortion arguments. The hens are viewed as incompetent and in need of protection from themselves. Hen bodies are allegedly mutilated out of concern for the hens’ well-being.

This is obviously absurd. If they cared about the hens’ well-being, they would free them from reproductive slavery. (Note to feminists: this is a women’s issue.)

All slaughter houses are the same

There aren’t special “humane” slaughterhouses. Even “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised” cows, dogs, and other animals are put on a conveyer belt and slaughtered by blades while still standing, conscious, and frightened. (If this description is too graphic for you to read, imagine how much more terrifying it is for the animals.)

To further the conversation surrounding the plight of animals, it is vital that we change the language we use accordingly. The term “factory farming” has done its work.  Now, we need to take down “humane” animal products.

End Notes:

Knowing our audiences is important. Habitually, I tell my neighbor he is “complicit in factory farming” when I see him eat Chick-Fil-A. However, I won’t show up with a picket-sign that reads “End Factory Farming” to an animal-rights/women’s rights rally.

Admittedly, I am guilty of endorsing “certified humane” animal products for non-vegan animal companions. I do not see a truly humane alternative at present.  Veganism (read: life in general) is a process whereby I am continually learning and making changes. All we can do is strive to be our best.

How do you feel about “humane” labels on animal-products?

Also by R.Coker: Should Vegans Keep Using Wool? Why I Decided To Give It Up

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Photo: William Moreland on Unsplash


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