This post is part of an ongoing series called Most Common Justifications for Eating Animals, in which we seek to provide answers and resources to better address common defenses of animal product consumption.
Farm animals have a much better life than they would in nature! is a claim we often encounter from people defending animal product consumption. Fans of this line of thinking commonly present an either/or situation: either the animals we eat die a violent, harrowing death in nature (after a violent, harrowing existence), or they have a comparably “easy” life and a “better” death on farms.
But this is a fallacy of unwarranted assumption. First, these farmed animals would never have been born in the wild; they are artificially bred into existence specifically to be exploited on farms. Animal agriculture is not some heroic intervention into “tooth and claw” nature whereby farmed animals are rescued from a horrible death that would have been far worse than the pseudo-benevolent slaughter they experience at human hands. These animals are not being rescued or saved or “protected from predators”; they are bred by humans to be killed by humans without a fighting chance.
Another variation of this argument goes: “Factory farming is wrong, but “pastured,” “free range,” “humanely raised” (etc.) animals on small farms have a much better life than they would in nature. Therefore we are justified in eating them.” But again the same point applies that animals on small farms have been forcibly bred into existence and would not otherwise exist “in the wild.” The hypothetical nature scenario is a false premise and does not justify our needless breeding, exploitation and killing of animals for food.
Secondly, many of the worst cruelties inflicted on animals in factory farms are also routine practices on small, so-called humane farms, including castration, horn removal and ear cutting, all without painkiller or anesthesia; sexual violation and forced impregnation; destruction of families and separation of babies from their mothers; and a long, miserable transport in all temperature extremes to a painful and terrifying slaughter.
Even in the best case scenarios, farmed animals are denied their liberty, their bodily and reproductive autonomy, and many of their most basic natural instincts and preferences. Even on small, so-called humane farms, animals have no control over the most important aspects of their lives. Consider that the following is true for all animals on all farms:
“Humans decide where they will live; if they will ever know their mothers; if, and how long, they will nurse their babies; when, and if, they will be permitted to see or be with their families and friends; when, where, or if they will be allowed to socialize with members of their own species; when, how, and if, they are going to reproduce; what, when, and how much they will eat; how much space they will have, if any; if, and how far, they will be allowed to roam; what mutilations they will be subjected to; what, if any, veterinary care they will receive; and when, where, and how they are going to die.” (Lucas, Joanna)
If these indignities formed the circumstance of your brief and unfree life, at the end of which you would be forcefully restrained, attacked and slaughtered against your will, at only a fraction of your natural lifespan, and all for completely unnecessary reasons — would you maintain that you had been humanely treated? The affirmation and protection of other’s dignity is a core principle of what we understand as ethical treatment of others. The “better off than in nature” argument, then, fails as a moral justification for farming animals not only because it begins with a false premise, but also because it fails to acknowledge the many existential dignities that animals who are farmed are robbed of as compared to free-living animals.
Learn more at “A Closer Look at What So-Called Humane Farming Means.”
See more common justifications for eating animals.