Practical Issues > Factory Farming  > Farming

Factory Farming Commentary
For low meat prices, the animals, the environment and rural neighborhoods pay steeply.

There is a growing consensus that factory farming of animals also known as CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations is morally wrong. The American animal rights movement, which in its early years focused largely on the use of animals in research, now has come to see that factory farming represents by far the greater abuse of animals. The numbers speak for themselves. In the United States somewhere between 20 million and 40 million birds and mammals are killed for research every year. That might seem like a lot and it far exceeds the number of animals killed for their fur, let alone the relatively tiny number used in circuses but 40 million represents less than two days' toll in America's slaughterhouses, which kill about 10 billion animals each year.
Opposition to factory farming, once associated mostly with animal rights activists, now is shared by many conservatives, among them Matthew Scully, a former speech writer in President George W. Bush's White House and the author of "Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy." In Scully's view, even though God has given us "dominion" over the animals, we should exercise that dominion with mercy and factory farming fails to do so. Scully's writings have found support from other conservatives, like Pat Buchanan, editor of The American Conservative, which gave cover-story prominence to Scully's essay "Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism for Animals," and George F. Will, who used his Newsweek column to recommend Scully's book.

No less a religious authority than Pope Benedict XVI has stated that human "dominion" over animals does not justify factory farming. While head of the Roman Catholic Church's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the future pope condemned the "industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds." This "degrading of living creatures to a commodity" seemed to him "to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."

Some people think that factory farming is necessary to feed the growing population of our planet. The truth, however, is the opposite. No matter how efficient intensive pork, beef, chicken, egg and milk production becomes, in the narrow sense of producing more meat, eggs or milk for each pound of grain we feed the animals, raising animals on grain remains wasteful. Far from increasing the total amount of food available for human consumption, it reduces it.
Fortunately there are alternatives, including eating a vegan diet, or buying animal products only from producers who allow their animals to go outside and live a minimally decent life. It is time for a shift in our values. While our society focuses on issues like gay marriage and the use of embryos for research, we are overlooking one of the big moral issues of our day. We should see the purchase and consumption of factory-farm products, whether by an individual or by an institution like a university, as a violation of the most basic ethical standards of how we should treat animals and the environment.

Peter Singer is a philosopher and professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. Please send comments to

full story: