Industrial farming of animals is an abhorrence; the conscious acceptance of which reflects a stagnant moral evolution, writes Andrew Hunter.
For a range of animals, the technological progress that has accompanied the moral stagnation around factory farming is such that the numbers of animals produced, then systematically slaughtered, is breathtaking.
Today, 60 billion terrestrial animals and a trillion animals of the sea are killed each year for human consumption. The world-wide production of meat has increased five-fold since 1950, the amount consumed in Australia 10-fold in the same period. To eat meat in a civilisation that has become as unthinking as it is gluttonous, is a banal part of human existence; an act inherited from our Neolithic forefathers, surviving millennia of moral progress.
What renders industrial farming unique is that it aligns industrial slaughter with an equal effort to increase the reproduction of the species destined for mass slaughter. It will not make species disappear but will eviscerate them of their basic nature. More and more animals are produced to ensure short, painful lives, marked by deprivation and mutilation, endured in darkness and confinement.
To have confidence in our capacity to make discerning and morally correct decisions on any matter, it is first important to overcome ignorance of the subject. In some cases, this is ignorance of the past. In others, it is ignorance of the future.
Tolstoy decided to experience “the reality of the question raised when vegetarianism was discussed”. He went to a slaughter house in Toula, near his home, and recorded his experience in an essay, The First Step. Experience is the first step to an informed decision, both personal in in regards to what we as a society understand basic protections against unnecessarily short, restricted and unnatural lives of unspeakable torment.
For this is the reality of factory farming. And it is not only the endless production line that would make most decent people reconsider their positions — it is the conditions endured prior to the relief that death brings. As all beings share the inevitable reality of death, is it natural to focus on the quality of existence.
Our capacity and determination to produce in higher quantities at a lower cost separates the present moment from any which preceded it. Rapidly advancing technology and scientific understanding will impress the moments to come. It is how we use these hitherto unbelievable capacities, however, that will define the extent of human progress.
If our capacity to make and to destroy, to produce and to terminate, are not accompanied by advances in philosophy and reflections on questions of morality, our future will be bleak, soulless and painful. And the first step to progress is understanding.
If our children experienced factory farms, they will be closed tomorrow. If our legislators visited factory farms, they would be closed today.