Sunday, July 05, 2009

Animal agriculture all comes down...

To the essential fact of humans controlling the lives (and deaths) of animals.  There are important degrees of severity involved, but to expect to find a clever solution to the fundamental outcome of our predator/prey relationship is hardly rational.

But with Iberico production, even this trade-off is not as clear as it might seem. Iberico pigs actually spend the first nine months of their lives in confinement. Granted, it's not factory-farm confinement—they've got some room to move and all-natural feed to eat, nor are they docked or clipped. But the promoted benefits of free-range are absent—no sun, no freshly fallen acorns, no wallowing in big mud pits. While indoors, they're castrated, spayed, kept to a feeding schedule, administered antibiotics when sick, directed to eat and sleep in carefully chosen locations, and, just before the barn doors open to the freedom of la dehesa, mutilated with a nose ring.
As responsible consumers, it's easy to decide to avoid factory-farmed pork. The hard part is what to make of the most acceptable alternative. Does free-range farming justify the mutilation that's often required to keep pigs outdoors? As an ethical matter, the question is open to endless debate. What the conscientious meat eater can take away from it is not so much a concrete answer as a more nuanced way to think about our food choices. In this age of deeply convincing attacks on factory farms, consumers must be careful not to immediately assume that every alternative to factory farming is as "all natural" or humane as its advocates will inevitably declare. The alternatives might require still more alternatives. [More]

Engineers are the poster-children for this problem, but as long as we consider moral end ethical teaching to be a egghead sideline of university educations, we will continue to be troubled by our choices and our society more than perhaps is necessary.


Brian in OH said...


I say this with affection, and no small amount of sadness, but you, my friend, have jumped the proverbial shark. I dare guess that for your audience, both here and elsewhere, "moral and ethical teaching" are their highest concern, not to be "sidelined" to any person, place, or thing.

Please don't think I'm trying to catch you up on a one-time, inartful turn of phrase. Even if it was a slip, it reveals the culmination of gradually increasing displays of contempt for agriculture, and your adoption of the progressive critique thereof. Not to mention the ride you've hitched on the left-swinging pendulum in American politics and culture.

We used to get from you an occasional link to Reason magazine, or some other classical liberal thinker. But now it's all Mother Jones, liberal media outlets, and lefty bloggers. You even admiringly posted a link to a Washington Post column that referred to us with the unmitigated pejorative "Elmer."

You have described yourself as leaning libertarian, but to me, a better word that describes the flavor of your writing would be contrarian. Maybe you think you're doing farmers a favor by revealing to them points of view of which they are otherwise ignorant. I think you underestimate their awareness. But more than that, you really underestimate the, albeit doleful, satisfaction eminating from your words when you once again stick your thumb in our eye.

John Phipps said...


As always I welcome your opinions, and I take them as written.

I frankly do not follow your comments from this post, but believe I grasp your reference to other posts.

I am posting soon about several articles concerning animal welfare and agriculture's response. My point, which was obviously obscure here, was not a thrust at modern livestock production, but rather the opposite: any meat production will require some reality injected into rather esoteric platforms of proper conduct being proposed by animal welfare groups. (please note that was the theme of the linked material)

These objections are, I believe, held by enough (if not many) folks to truly impact animal agriculture.

Concerning for the sources I use, I appreciate your recognition of the linkage - it has become a growing problem in the blogosphere.

I still check hit&run often but their current fascination is with drug issues, with which I do not really feel comfortable.

As for left wing sources, I don't count Drum or Salmon or McArdle in that category, but that's a matter of judgment.

The WaPo link was just a taste of the reaction to the W-M concessions to agriculture. It is my belief that the actions of ag lobbyists in the W-M debate were ill-conceived, but time will tell. I will post the NRO's comment tonight. Perhaps that will address your concerns of political fairness. Trust me, if you haven't read Cato or Heritage or NRO on agriculture lately, you won't be much happier.

I have acknowledged on numerous occasions my views on AGW and ethanol do not coincide with many of my (grain producing) peers, but like you, the vast majority of my peers are content to point out what's wrong rather than search for what could make things better. I take your comments especially very seriously, but on this post cannot understand your logic. I do recognize condescension, however.

Regardless, this is nature of the nascent medium we now utilize, and I am astonished to even be having this conversation. Perhaps you have never considered it, but given your capabilities, I think you would be a wonderful addition to the emerging ag blogosphere.

Thanks for writing.

Brian in OH said...


If you are just now discovering the farm animal welfare issue, you are a bit tardy. And this is one party to which a late entrance is fraught with extreme peril. Livestock farmers are neck-deep in an existential struggle against a perverse, if not quite untenable set of values. They are well-informed of the views of their opponents and certainly don't need some friend of Job to show up now with a fresh helping of sanctimony.

The last paragraph of your post clearly implies, intentionally or not, that we operate our farms in some sort of morality-free zone, a notion I take exception to (as you may have noticed.) This is not just a livestock issue - Michael Pollan prefers to target corn, but livestock farmers are the ones having states legislate them out of business.

I live in a suburb of a major US city. My city friends are uniformly delighted to hear that I'm a farmer, an occupation still held in a somewhat romantic favor. But it doesn't take long to see that their surprise is in part based on their general view of farmers as operating in some uninformed and uneducated environ, next door to the Dukes of Hazard. It is this pervasive view, of the great unwashed rurals, that gives credence to the notion that we are such ignorant tools of agribusiness and, more darkly, so easily assumes callousness in our treatment of animals.

That "Elmer" column, which I had read before you linked to it, captures it pretty well. I hate to see that same attitude creeping into your commentary as well. And please don't accuse us of being unwilling to sacrifice for the common good.

Finally, for the record, I have long opposed crop subsidies, supply management, farm programs, and ethanol boondoggles for that matter. I would support a straightforward cap and trade, or carbon tax(which are 2 sides of the same coin,) especially if the revenue were used to lower some other tax. But the W-M bill is a hash which would have little effect on the climate, but greatly increase the power and reach of the state. The political disfunction that is producing this garbage has to also be viewed as a threat to our future, maybe more than CO2. I care deeply about the future I leave to my children, and their liberty is a huge part of that.

Thanks for the forum. I appreciate the chance to exchange views. I wish I had more time to comment, instead of long periods of silence between eruptions. :)

From Virginia said...


For what its worth IMHO, your posts are some of the more thoughtful, well written, and engaging opinions I have seen posted.