The public debate about animal welfare in farming

What really surprises me is the inadequate public debate about animal welfare in farming. In Australia today we really can live happy healthy lives without harming any animals yet we choose not to do that. In fact, harms are increasing as demand grows, exports are actively sought, and industry practices increasingly favour intensive operations.

The public prefers to keep its head firmly in the sand, but this is slowly changing. However, even though many many people are speaking out, our media channels prefer to stick to the status quo.

For example, whenever this question comes up it is often mocked on mainstream television programs. Rarely is there a feature that addresses the very real ethical and moral questions, and when there is such it is taken as being slightly out there or screwy.

Why? Why should wanting to be more compassionate be seen as nutty? It seems to me that the food industry has done a huge snowjob on the public mind and conscience. People are convinced that we simply HAVE to eat animal products and that we do it really nicely.  And yet that is just not the case.

It’s all very well for people to say that eating animals is their choice and they should be free to make that choice, but when that choice causes suffering and misery for other lives, it’s a choice that really should be better understood before it’s made.

While of course there is debate in various media and fora, it’s the mainstream media that I’d like to see take this subject seriously. And to that end, I’m thinking that the ABC panel discussion, Q & A, would be an ideal platform to launch a renewed legitimacy of discussion around the ethics and morality of animal farming in a modern Australia.

I plan to launch a petition on change.org, a petition to the ABC asking them to do this. Below is the first draft of my petition, I welcome any comment for improvement. I hope this petition gets widespread support – there does seem to be a real groundswell of interest in this matter right now and it’s very opportune to ask Q&A to tackle it.

Petition to ABC

So, tell me again why we eat all those animals?

Globally, livestock farming may prove unsustainable on current trajectories. Studies have suggested that environmental impacts are significant with evidence that this industry is a major contributor to climate change by way of greenhouse gas emissions and land clearing.

In Australia, land clearing for agriculture (as well as for human habitation, industry and transport etc) has significantly altered Australia’s natural landscape, and with it, Australia’s biodiversity. About 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate zone has been cleared including something like 50% of Australia’s rainforests (Source: Creating Markets for Biodiversity, Productivity Commission). The resulting loss has seen Australia become one of the most affected countries in the world in terms of species extinctions.

We should also be considering the ethical question of treating animals in this way. Science has shown us unequivocally that creatures such as sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys have the capacity for inner subjective experience that includes the capacity to feel pain and to suffer. Not one of these animals evolved to be bred in their millions in captivity, constrained against their will, treated poorly and killed young.

Increasingly, to ensure profitability and to meet the growing demand for food, animals are raised in what are known as intensive operations. In Australia, the vast majority of pigs are raised in entirely artificial conditions and subject to a range of cruel and damaging practices. Of the something like 5 million pigs slaughtered annually, around 90-95% are raised in this way. Even dairy, traditionally farmed by small family run operations, is experiencing a trend to larger, more intensive operations.

Something that many people also don’t realise is that while animal products provide sustenance for many, it is increasingly supplying an entertainment industry. People like to eat and food is a major social activity. We see the rise of fast food outlets, restaurants, television cooking shows and so on, all dedicated to making food less a sustaining necessity and more of a casual pleasure. The terrible harms of intensive farming become less convincing when we consider the largely unnecessary nature of this consumption. Simply put, we are killing many many animals for fun.

These issues are significant and demand consideration even if we couldn’t avoid the need to farm animals. However in Australia, there really is little such need. It is entirely possible for people to get the sustenance they need from non-animal based products. A plant-based diet can be as healthy, sustaining, enjoyable and rewarding as a mixed diet. Health authorities agree that limiting meat and dairy intake is important to good health and increasingly we see studies confirming the benefits of a largely or completely plant based diet.

The public debate is dominated by the self interest of the meat and livestock industry, yet should this be so? Considering the impacts in environmental and animal welfare terms, as well as in terms of health outcomes for people, shouldn’t we see more discussion of the negatives of this industry and ways to alleviate these? And shouldn’t the public be told more about the ethical shortcomings of an industry that at every turn seeks to harm millions of animals every year to make a profit?

There is no shortage of thoughtful, knowledgeable people that could contribute to such a debate. And what a refreshing change for the public to hear the views of such people rather than the one-sided conversation that currently persists.

Isn’t it time that the public debate became serious about why we farm animals in modern Australia and what that means for their well-being and ours? We the undersigned believe that Q&A would be a well regarded platform to begin this public discussion and we ask you to devote a panel to this increasingly serious and complex issue.

 

[Post image sourced from reuters.com]
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