Why we must end the modern tragedy of factory farms…
One day, many thousands of years ago, probably in Iraq, or somewhere else in the Fertile Crescent, a man approached a wolf, one with a friendly nature, less aggressive than its companions. He began to spend time with it and feed it, separating it from the pack and controlling its reproduction by selecting only the most docile pups. In short, he began to domesticate it, initiating the extraordinary relationship between humans and dogs that has continued ever since.
From that initial approach, followed by domestication and the use of animals by humans, the story of humanity changed and the unstoppable evolutionary phenomenon that we rush to call “progress” began. The domestication of animals stimulated an immense leap in the history of civilization, to the point that the populations that domesticated animals dominated those that did not. But that initial gesture of approach between two species of mammals also meant an assumption of responsibility by humans towards these living beings subordinated to their needs.
For a long time, humans paid no heed to this aspect of domestication. For centuries, useful animals were considered little more than things, to be kept alive and fed, it didn’t matter how, and then slaughtered. It was only the gradual rise of the “ethical” factor in social relationships, which dates back only a few decades, which drew the attention of humans to animals. This entirely modern sensitivity is expressed in lifestyles that increasingly abandon or limit the consumption of meat, in laws that protect animal welfare and in a broader love for and attention towards animals of all types, wild and domesticated.
From around the post-war period onwards, a new phenomenon developed in the relationship between humankind and animals: The arrival of industrial capitalism in the agricultural world and the distortion of methods of cultivation, food processing and raising livestock. Living beings of use to humans have returned to being considered things, and there has been no limit to their exploitation. Everyone tends to ignore the fact that this tragedy is taking place just a few steps from our homes. An enormous contradiction has ensconced itself in our contemporary world: Millions of pets are pampered inside our houses, while just around the corner but out of sight, millions of pigs, chickens, cows and lambs are forced into lives of incredible suffering.
If we don’t demand the closing of these concentration-camp farms, if we do not connect the meat on our plate with the terrible fates to which we condemn innumerable animals, how can we call ourselves animal-lovers? Closing factory farms must be the first, inescapable demand if we want to talk about animal welfare. And in front of the inevitable laments of those who will rant against this assault against the economy, food security and free enterprise, we must reply that, apart from the obvious obscenity of intensive animal farming, a farm of 400 dairy or beef cattle is madness from all perspectives, employing barely a dozen workers and consuming immense quantities of land, water, energy and medicines.
Wouldn’t it be much better to instead divide this enormous herd between 10 or 15 small farms, maybe in marginal areas, teaching small-scale farmers good cultural and environmental practices? Certainly, it would be a less efficient type of production, but it would be better from every other point of view. The question is, do we want to pursue the lowest cost with efficiency or the fairest cost with small and medium multifunctional farms that consume and waste less? Every argument about animal welfare must start from this precondition: close the concentration camps and mega factory farms. Animals are not things, and the wellbeing of a civilized society is equal to the welfare it guarantees animals. All animals.
by Piero Sardo
Article first published in the 2013 Slow Food Almanac