Chapter four of Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s book, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, is aptly titled “Meat and Milk Factories”. The chapter provides the reader with a detailed gaze into the insider activities of America’s commercial beef, dairy, and pork producers. Singer and Mason draw on their visits as well as on the accounts of other parties with whom they share a common interest in the industry to offer these insights. Their approach in analyzing the conditions prevailing in the industry is clear-cut in that they compare what to them are the circumstances that are most favorable for farm animals and weigh them against what they view as a deplorable state of affairs regarding the treatment of factory-farmed animals by farmers. In this pursuit, they point out and discuss the case after another where they feel profit motive supersedes ethical accountability.
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Singer and Mason introduce the chapter on “Meat and Milk Factories” by taking a look at the trend in American meat consumption since 1970, noting that although there has been a decline in the consumption of beef, the contrary has been true for both chicken and pork consumption. In 1975 there were about 69 million pigs produced in more than 660,000 pig farms. However, Singer and Mason note that a staggering, close to 90% of the farms had vanished by 2004. More interestingly, the production of pigs, on the contrary, had nearly doubled over the same period with piggeries producing 103 million pigs a year (43).
Further, Singer and Mason acknowledge the huge environmental impact that commercial pig farming has had, observing that “an adult pig produces about four times the amount of feces of a human, so, a large confinement operation with, say, fifty thousand pigs, creates half a million pounds of urine and excrement every day” (43). Unlike human sewage, this remains untreated before being released to the environment. This makes piggeries “more than a public nuisance. They are also a public health risk” (44). The chapter then proceeds to present a detailed picture of the operations of pig farms drawing on the authors’ firsthand experience in one of the piggeries. Singer and Mason narrate what they term as “a pig’s life” with reference to pigs’ living conditions, noting that such “cruel” acts as castrating ten-year-old piglets without anesthetic as well as “cutting off piglets tails and clipping their ‘needle teeth’” (50), are waged against the pigs daily. In the same breadth, the authors argue that confining pigs in a small room all day long produces a high amount of psychological stress because pigs are “…sensitive, intelligent, and highly social animals” (46). Additionally, they examine legislations in place (and lack of such) to protect the pigs and conclude that the legislative scenario about pig protection is wanting (44-45). They do this in comparison to the case for other animals, particularly pets. The authors then account their journey to trace the process of “making bacon” at the Bradley’s followed by a detailed discussion about the profitability and welfare elements in animal farming. All this is made to bring into light the sufferings that pigs and other farm animals go through.
In so far as pigs are concerned, the authors give critical facts of how more than 90 percent of pigs raised for meat nowadays are raised indoors in crowded pens made of steel and concrete. True to their assertion that “there is no federal law governing the welfare of farmed animals on the farm”, this kind of cruelty continues to be perpetrated against these animals with little hope of the practices coming to an end (45). Additionally, they rightly argue that “cruelty is legal as long as it is done by most farmers, and you can’t prosecute anyone for it” (45). Indeed, the pigs are exposed to harsher and stringent conditions; “sows are made to produce litter after litter as quickly as possible, which means they are pregnant for most of their lives” (47).
As much as Singer and Mason may seem to have gone overboard in their case against the confinement of pigs as to even appear sentimental about the topic, the fact remains that the pigs are always under total confinement. Sows “cannot walk around or socialize with other sows” and during their time of birth, ” piglets are confined in what producers call a farrowing crate…their restricted movement barely permitting them to “stand up or lie down on the bare concrete floor” (47). This fact is bound to invoke concern even among those who care less about “animal rights”. From whatever angle one looks at the situation, it is indeed quite disheartening that factory-farmed pigs and other animals are completely denied any kind of freedom to move around, not to mention that their bedded facilities are often deplorable. They “never get to go outside or root around in the pasture and don’t even have straw to bed down in” (45). This cruel condition exposes them to health hazards such as psychological stress, foot injuries, and urinary tract infections. Singer and Mason’s portrayal of this situation is remarkable as they make the reader vividly imagine the sorry situation of their subject (pigs and other factory-farmed animals).
The authors’ visit to Bradley pigs enables them to provide a firsthand and hence authentic example of pigs’ total confinement and poor beddings. They give credence to their observations and argument about pigs, for instance, that “none of them ever go outdoors” (50) and “there is no straw or other soft bedding material” (49). According to Singer and Mason’s visit to Janie Mullinex and Mabel Bernard, the pig farms are indeed a nuisance to neighbors. They discharge odor and cause various illnesses such as diarrhea and tremendous headache.
Singer and Mason are accurate in their assessment of pig abuse in the rearing farms. The pigs are grown entirely inside a barn. The flooring is typically slatted or concrete-floored (wire floors or concrete with slats). Singer and Mason’s analysis of the plight of factory-farmed pigs echoes that made by Herren (77); that pigs suffer a lot by being locked up in concrete floors with moderately little room for exercising or walking. Although the growing pigs often live in a barren environment and that the slated or concrete floors are simple to maintain, such flooring can result in injury, lameness, or joint disorders, for the animals (Swabe 96). Singer and Mason in this respect astutely point out that the pigs’ physical growths as well as their reproductive cycles are abused to their extreme limits (Mason and Singer 8). In essence, the surroundings in which pigs are nurtured appear entirely planned to maximize profit and minimize labor expenditures.
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That pregnant sows are kept in thin crates restricting them to turn around, or just walk a step forward or backward is a classic example provided by Singer and Mason of the cruelty directed towards pigs. Moreover, the piglets are usually weaned as soon as possible to allow the sows to get pregnant once more. This is even though the sows never depart from the shed until they are taken for slaughter (Singer 2006). It is difficult to disagree with the authors’ position that the total confinement pig farm is particularly intended for utmost exploitation of the pig’s growth and reproductive cycles. While it might be argued that the living conditions of pigs result in improved disease control, enhanced productivity, improved sanitation, and better general efficiency in production and pig management, pigs kept under total confinement incline to suffer boredom and great stress (Swabe 96).
I agree with Singer and Mason’s view that “big farms are more than a nuisance” and “a public health risk”, a fact which is also attested to by the American Public Health Association (44). The smell from the pig farms is perceived to be more than a nuisance by most people. As a matter of fact findings of a Duke University research suggested that the odor from pig farms influences the mental health of residents in their vicinity. People dwelling near large pig farms were susceptible to more confusion, more anger, more depression, more tension, more fatigue, and less vigor (Smith 4).
Singer and Mason are, however, less accurate in one of their assertions that “there is lack of federal laws governing the welfare of farmed animals” (45). According to IDA USA, there is an Animal Welfare Act that oversees the humane care, treatment, handling, and transportation of several animals in various situations. The Animal Welfare Act, however, inadequately stipulates the minimum acceptable conditions for housing, handling, treatment, and care of farmed animals.
Just as the case is for Singer and Mason, it is also my hope that the Animal Welfare Act will develop and ensure a friendlier living environment for pigs and other farm animals. Reforms in this Act could involve, for instance, re-definition of the coverage of the Act, that is, the Act should not only seek to enforce farm animals’ rights starting from the time of their transportation to slaughterhouses (Singer and Mason 45), it should include clauses that protect farm animals from cruel treatment at the farms as well since this is where the animals spend most of their life and from where most of the cruelty is subjected to them. Besides, such cruel practices as the confinement of farm animals all day long, day in day out should be outlawed by the Act. So should castration of piglets without anesthesia.
The Animal Welfare Act should borrow a leaf from the recent developments in the European Union’s animal welfare laws, particularly regarding the treatment of sows. Following a scientific investigation on the impact of sow crates or sow stalls on the welfare of sows (Singer and Mason 46), the EU passed a law that bans sow crates and which should phase them out by 2012 (47).
In conclusion, Singer and Mason’s “Meat and Milk Factories” present the case for pig abuse compellingly. The authors have made good use of mostly firsthand experiences on the prevailing situations in the farms to give some detailed and profound insights into the firm’s’ inhumane’ operations. Appropriately, they do not shy away from strongly advocating for farmers to change their ways of treating their farm animals, which they believe would, in turn, ensure that freedom and fairness prevail for farm animals in much the same way they do for humans and pets. This way they would give the animals a more decent life.
Herren, Ray V. The Art and Science of Livestock Evaluations. New York: Cengage, 2009. Print.
Mason, Jim, and Peter Singer. Animal Factories. New York: Crown, 1980. Print.
Singer, Peter and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. New York: Rodale, 2006. Print
Singer, Peter. The Ethics of Eating. 2006. Web.
Smith, Ron F. Groping For Ethics in Journalism, 5th ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press, 2003. Print.
Swabe, Joanna. Animals, Disease, and Human Society: Human-Animal Relations and the Rise of Veterinary Medicine. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.
“Welfare Act”. IDAUSA. (n.d). Web.