Fear Factories

The case for compassionate conservatism-for animals

Tue, 12 Jul 2005 22:22:07 -0700

George Will has a column in the current Newsweek

on this subject...see

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8525632/site/newsweek/

 

The American Conservative May 23, 2005

 

http://www.amconmag.com/2005_05_23/cover.html

 

by Matthew Scully

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A few years ago I began a book about cruelty to

animals and about factory farming in particular,

problems that had been in the back of my mind for

a long while. At the time I viewed factory

farming as one of the lesser problems facing

humanity-a small wrong on the grand scale of good

and evil but too casually overlooked and too

glibly excused.

 

This view changed as I acquainted myself with the

details and saw a few typical farms up close. By

the time I finished the book, I had come to view

the abuses of industrial farming as a serious

moral problem, a truly rotten business for good

reason passed over in polite conversation. Little

wrongs, when left unattended, can grow and spread

to become grave wrongs, and precisely this had

happened on our factory farms.

 

The result of these ruminations was Dominion: The

Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the

Call to Mercy. And though my tome never quite hit

the bestseller lists, there ought to be some

special literary prize for a work highly

recommended in both the Wall Street Journal and

Vegetarian Teen. When you enjoy the accolades of

PETA and Policy Review, Deepak Chopra and Gordon

Liddy, Peter Singer and Charles Colson, you can

at least take comfort in the diversity of your

readership.

 

The book also provided an occasion for fellow

conservatives to get beyond their dislike for

particular animal-rights groups and to examine

cruelty issues on the merits. Conservatives have

a way of dismissing the subject, as if where

animals are concerned nothing very serious could

ever be at stake. And though it is not exactly

true that liberals care more about these

issues-you are no more likely to find reflections

or exposés concerning cruelty in The Nation or

The New Republic than in any journal of the

Right-it is assumed that animal-protection causes

are a project of the Left, and that the proper

conservative position is to stand warily and

firmly against them.

 

I had a hunch that the problem was largely one of

presentation and that by applying their own

principles to animal-welfare issues conservatives

would find plenty of reasons to be appalled. More

to the point, having acknowledged the problems of

cruelty, we could then support reasonable

remedies. Conservatives, after all, aren't shy

about discoursing on moral standards or reluctant

to translate the most basic of those standards

into law. Setting aside the distracting rhetoric

of animal rights, that's usually what these

questions come down to: what moral standards

should guide us in our treatment of animals, and

when must those standards be applied in law?

 

Industrial livestock farming is among a whole

range of animal-welfare concerns that extends

from canned trophy-hunting to whaling to product

testing on animals to all sorts of more obscure

enterprises like the exotic-animal trade and the

factory farming of bears in China for bile

believed to hold medicinal and aphrodisiac

powers. Surveying the various uses to which

animals are put, some might be defensible, others

abusive and unwarranted, and it's the job of any

conservative who attends to the subject to figure

out which are which. We don't need novel theories

of rights to do this. The usual distinctions that

conservatives draw between moderation and excess,

freedom and license, moral goods and material

goods, rightful power and the abuse of power,

will all do just fine.

 

As it is, the subject hardly comes up at all

among conservatives, and what commentary we do

hear usually takes the form of ridicule directed

at animal-rights groups. Often conservatives side

instinctively with any animal-related industry

and those involved, as if a thing is right just

because someone can make money off it or as if

our sympathies belong always with the men just

because they are men.

 

I had an exchange once with an eminent

conservative columnist on this subject.

Conversation turned to my book and to factory

farming. Holding his hands out in the "stop"

gesture, he said, "I don't want to know."

Granted, life on the factory farm is no one's

favorite subject, but conservative writers often

have to think about things that are disturbing or

sad. In this case, we have an intellectually

formidable fellow known to millions for his stern

judgments on every matter of private morality and

public policy. Yet nowhere in all his writings do

I find any treatment of any cruelty issue, never

mind that if you asked him he would surely agree

that cruelty to animals is a cowardly and

disgraceful sin.

 

And when the subject is cruelty to farmed

animals-the moral standards being applied in a

fundamental human enterprise-suddenly we're in

forbidden territory and "I don't want to know" is

the best he can do. But don't we have a

responsibility to know? Maybe the whole subject

could use his fine mind and his good heart.

 

As for the rights of animals, rights in general

are best viewed in tangible terms, with a view to

actual events and consequences. Take the case of

a hunter in Texas named John Lockwood, who has

just pioneered the online safari. At his

canned-hunting ranch outside San Antonio, he's

got a rifle attached to a camera and the camera

wired up to the Internet, so that sportsmen going

to Live-shot.com will actually be able to fire at

baited animals by remote control from their

computers. "If the customer were to wound the

animal," explains the San Antonio Express-News,

"a staff person on site could finish it off." The

"trophy mounts" taken in these heroics will then

be prepared and shipped to the client's door, and

if it catches on Lockwood will be a rich man.

 

Very much like animal farming today, the hunting

"industry" has seen a collapse in ethical

standards, and only in such an atmosphere could

Lockwood have found inspiration for this latest

innovation-denying wild animals the last shred of

respect. Under the laws of Texas and other

states, Lockwood and others in his business use

all sorts of methods once viewed as shameful:

baits, blinds, fences to trap hunted animals in

ranches that advertise a "100-percent-guaranteed

kill." Affluent hunters like to unwind by

shooting cage-reared pheasants, ducks, and other

birds, firing away as the fowl of the air are

released before them like skeet, with no limit on

the day's kill. Hunting supply stores are filled

with lures, infrared lights, high-tech scopes,

and other gadgetry to make every man a marksman.

 

Lockwood doesn't hear anyone protesting those

methods, except for a few of those nutty activist

types. Why shouldn't he be able to offer paying

customers this new hunting experience as well? It

is like asking a smut-peddler to please have the

decency to keep children out of it. Lockwood is

just one step ahead of the rest, and there is no

standard of honor left to stop him.

 

First impressions are usually correct in

questions of cruelty to animals, and here most of

us would agree that Live-shot.com does not show

our fellow man at his best. We would say that the

whole thing is a little tawdry and even depraved,

that the creatures Lockwood has "in stock" are

not just commodities. We would say that these

animals deserve better than the fate he has in

store for them.

 

As is invariably the case in animal-rights

issues, what we're really looking for are

safeguards against cruel and presumptuous people.

We are trying to hold people to their

obligations, people who could spare us the

trouble if only they would recognize a few limits

on their own conduct.

 

Conservatives like the sound of "obligation"

here, and those who reviewed Dominion were

relieved to find me arguing more from this angle

than from any notion of rights. "What the PETA

crowd doesn't understand," Jonah Goldberg wrote,

"or what it deliberately confuses, is that human

compassion toward animals is an obligation of

humans, not an entitlement for animals." Another

commentator put the point in religious terms:

"[W]e have a moral duty to respect the animal

world as God's handiwork, treating animals with

'the mercy of our Maker' Š But mercy and respect

for animals are completely different from rights

for animals-and we should never confuse the two."

Both writers confessed they were troubled by

factory farming and concluded with the uplifting

thought that we could all profit from further

reflection on our obligation of kindness to farm

animals.

 

The only problem with this insistence on

obligation is that after a while it begins to

sounds like a hedge against actually being held

to that obligation. It leaves us with a

high-minded attitude but no accountability, free

to act on our obligations or to ignore them

without consequences, personally opposed to

cruelty but unwilling to impose that view on

others.

 

Treating animals decently is like most

obligations we face, somewhere between the most

and the least important, a modest but essential

requirement to living with integrity. And it's

not a good sign when arguments are constantly

turned to precisely how much is mandatory and how

much, therefore, we can manage to avoid.

 

If one is using the word "obligation" seriously,

moreover, then there is no practical difference

between an obligation on our end not to mistreat

animals and an entitlement on their end not to be

mistreated by us. Either way, we are required to

do and not do the same things. And either way,

somewhere down the logical line, the entitlement

would have to arise from a recognition of the

inherent dignity of a living creature. The moral

standing of our fellow creatures may be humble,

but it is absolute and not something within our

power to confer or withhold. All creatures sing

their Creator's praises, as this truth is

variously expressed in the Bible, and are dear to

Him for their own sakes.

 

A certain moral relativism runs through the

arguments of those hostile or indifferent to

animal welfare-as if animals can be of value only

for our sake, as utility or preference decrees.

In practice, this outlook leaves each person to

decide for himself when animals rate moral

concern. It even allows us to accept or reject

such knowable facts about animals as their

cognitive and emotional capacities, their

conscious experience of pain and happiness.

 

Elsewhere in contemporary debates, conservatives

meet the foe of moral relativism by pointing out

that, like it or not, we are all dealing with the

same set of physiological realities and moral

truths. We don't each get to decide the facts of

science on a situational basis. We do not each go

about bestowing moral value upon things as it

pleases us at the moment. Of course, we do not

decide moral truth at all: we discern it. Human

beings in their moral progress learn to appraise

things correctly, using reasoned moral judgment

to perceive a prior order not of our devising.

 

C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man calls this

"the doctrine of objective value, the belief that

certain attitudes are really true, and others

really false, to the kind of thing the universe

is and the kind of things we are." Such words as

honor, piety, esteem, and empathy do not merely

describe subjective states of mind, Lewis reminds

us, but speak to objective qualities in the world

beyond that merit those attitudes in us. "[T]o

call children delightful or old men venerable,"

he writes, "is not simply to record a

psychological fact about our own parental or

filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a

quality which demands a certain response from us

whether we make it or not."

 

This applies to questions of cruelty as well. A

kindly attitude toward animals is not a

subjective sentiment; it is the correct moral

response to the objective value of a fellow

creature. Here, too, rational and virtuous

conduct consists in giving things their due and

in doing so consistently. If one animal's

pain-say, that of one's pet-is real and deserving

of sympathy, then the pain of essentially

identical animals is also meaningful, no matter

what conventional distinctions we have made to

narrow the scope of our sympathy. If it is wrong

to whip a dog or starve a horse or bait bears for

sport or grossly abuse farm animals, it is wrong

for all people in every place.

 

The problem with moral relativism is that it

leads to capriciousness and the despotic use of

power. And the critical distinction here is not

between human obligations and animal rights, but

rather between obligations of charity and

obligations of justice.

 

Active kindness to animals falls into the former

category. If you take in strays or help injured

wildlife or donate to animal charities, those are

fine things to do, but no one says you should be

compelled to do them. Refraining from cruelty to

animals is a different matter, an obligation of

justice not for us each to weigh for ourselves.

It is not simply unkind behavior, it is unjust

behavior, and the prohibition against it is

non-negotiable. Proverbs reminds us of this-"a

righteous man regardeth the life of his beast,

but the tender mercies of the wicked are

cruel"-and the laws of America and of every other

advanced nation now recognize the wrongfulness of

such conduct with our cruelty statutes. Often

applying felony-level penalties to protect

certain domestic animals, these state and federal

statutes declare that even though your animal may

elsewhere in the law be defined as your property,

there are certain things you may not do to that

creature, and if you are found harming or

neglecting the animal, you will answer for your

conduct in a court of justice.

 

There are various reasons the state has an

interest in forbidding cruelty, one of which is

that cruelty is degrading to human beings. The

problem is that many thinkers on this subject

have strained to find indirect reasons to explain

why cruelty is wrong and thereby to force animal

cruelty into the category of the victimless

crime. The most common of these explanations asks

us to believe that acts of cruelty matter only

because the cruel person does moral injury to

himself or sullies his character-as if the man is

our sole concern and the cruelly treated animal

is entirely incidental.

 

Once again, the best test of theory is a

real-life example. In 2002, Judge Alan Glenn of

Tennessee's Court of Criminal Appeals heard the

case of a married couple named Johnson, who had

been found guilty of cruelty to 350 dogs lying

sick, starving, or dead in their puppy-mill

kennel-a scene videotaped by police. Here is

Judge Glenn's response to their supplications for

mercy:

 

The victims of this crime were animals that could

not speak up to the unbelievable conduct of Judy

Fay Johnson and Stanley Paul Johnson that they

suffered. Several of the dogs have died and most

had physical problems such as intestinal worms,

mange, eye problems, dental problems and

emotional problems and socialization problems Š .

Watching this video of the conditions that these

dogs were subjected to was one of the most

deplorable things this Court has observed. Š

 

[T]his Court finds that probation would not serve

the ends of justice, nor be in the best interest

of the public, nor would this have a deterrent

effect for such gross behavior. Š The victims

were particularly vulnerable. You treated the

victims with exceptional cruelty. Š

 

There are those who would argue that you should

be confined in a house trailer with no

ventilation or in a cell three-by-seven with

eight or ten other inmates with no plumbing, no

exercise and no opportunity to feel the sun or

smell fresh air. However, the courts of this land

have held that such treatment is cruel and

inhuman, and it is. You will not be treated in

the same way that you treated these helpless

animals that you abused to make a dollar.

 

Only in abstract debates of moral or legal theory

would anyone quarrel with Judge Glenn's

description of the animals as "victims" or deny

that they were entitled to be treated better.

Whether we call this a "right" matters little,

least of all to the dogs, since the only right

that any animal could possibly exercise is the

right to be free from human abuse, neglect, or,

in a fine old term of law, other "malicious

mischief." What matters most is that prohibitions

against human cruelty be hard and binding. The

sullied souls of the Johnsons are for the

Johnsons to worry about. The business of justice

is to punish their offense and to protect the

creatures from human wrongdoing. And in the end,

just as in other matters of morality and justice,

the interests of man are served by doing the

right thing for its own sake.

 

There is only one reason for condemning cruelty

that doesn't beg the question of exactly why

cruelty is a wrong, a vice, or bad for our

character: that the act of cruelty is an

intrinsic evil. Animals cruelly dealt with are

not just things, not just an irrelevant detail in

some self-centered moral drama of our own. They

matter in their own right, as they matter to

their Creator, and the wrongs of cruelty are

wrongs done to them. As The Catholic Encyclopedia

puts this point, there is a "direct and essential

sinfulness of cruelty to the animal world,

irrespective of the results of such conduct on

the character of those who practice it."

 

Our cruelty statutes are a good and natural

development in Western law, codifying the claims

of animals against human wrongdoing, and, with

the wisdom of men like Judge Glenn, asserting

those claims on their behalf. Such statutes,

however, address mostly random or wanton acts of

cruelty. And the persistent animal-welfare

questions of our day center on institutional

cruelties-on the vast and systematic mistreatment

of animals that most of us never see.

 

Having conceded the crucial point that some

animals rate our moral concern and legal

protection, informed conscience turns naturally

to other animals-creatures entirely comparable in

their awareness, feeling, and capacity for

suffering. A dog is not the moral equal of a

human being, but a dog is definitely the moral

equal of a pig, and it's only human caprice and

economic convenience that say otherwise. We have

the problem that these essentially similar

creatures are treated in dramatically different

ways, unjustified even by the very different

purposes we have assigned to them. Our pets are

accorded certain protections from cruelty, while

the nameless creatures in our factory farms are

hardly treated like animals at all. The challenge

is one of consistency, of treating moral equals

equally, and living according to fair and

rational standards of conduct.

 

Whatever terminology we settle on, after all the

finer philosophical points have been hashed over,

the aim of the exercise is to prohibit

wrongdoing. All rights, in practice, are

protections against human wrongdoing, and here

too the point is to arrive at clear and

consistent legal boundaries on the things that

one may or may not do to animals, so that every

man is not left to be the judge in his own case.

 

More than obligation, moderation, ordered

liberty, or any of the other lofty ideals we

hold, what should attune conservatives to all the

problems of animal cruelty-and especially to the

modern factory farm-is our worldly side. The

great virtue of conservatism is that it begins

with a realistic assessment of human motivations.

We know man as he is, not only the rational

creature but also, as Socrates told us, the

rationalizing creature, with a knack for finding

an angle, an excuse, and a euphemism. Whether

it's the pornographer who thinks himself a

free-speech champion or the abortionist who looks

in the mirror and sees a reproductive health-care

services provider, conservatives are familiar

with the type.

 

So we should not be all that surprised when told

that these very same capacities are often at work

in the things that people do to animals-and all

the more so in our $125 billion a year livestock

industry. The human mind, especially when there

is money to be had, can manufacture grand excuses

for the exploitation of other human beings. How

much easier it is for people to excuse the wrongs

done to lowly animals.

 

Where animals are concerned, there is no practice

or industry so low that someone, somewhere,

cannot produce a high-sounding reason for it. The

sorriest little miscreant who shoots an elephant,

lying in wait by the water hole in some

canned-hunting operation, is just "harvesting

resources," doing his bit for "conservation." The

swarms of government-subsidized Canadian seal

hunters slaughtering tens of thousands of newborn

pups-hacking to death these unoffending

creatures, even in sight of their mothers-offer

themselves as the brave and independent bearers

of tradition. With the same sanctimony and deep

dishonesty, factory-farm corporations like

Smithfield Foods, ConAgra, and Tyson Foods still

cling to countrified brand names for their

labels-Clear Run Farms, Murphy Family Farms,

Happy Valley-to convince us and no doubt

themselves, too, that they are engaged in

something essential, wholesome, and honorable.

 

Yet when corporate farmers need barbed wire

around their Family Farms and Happy Valleys and

laws to prohibit outsiders from taking

photographs (as is the case in two states) and

still other laws to exempt farm animals from the

definition of "animals" as covered in federal and

state cruelty statues, something is amiss. And if

conservatives do nothing else about any other

animal issue, we should attend at least to the

factory farms, where the suffering is immense and

we are all asked to be complicit.

 

If we are going to have our meats and other

animal products, there are natural costs to

obtaining them, defined by the duties of animal

husbandry and of veterinary ethics. Factory

farming came about when resourceful men figured

out ways of getting around those natural costs,

applying new technologies to raise animals in

conditions that would otherwise kill them by

deprivation and disease. With no laws to stop it,

moral concern surrendered entirely to economic

calculation, leaving no limit to the punishments

that factory farmers could inflict to keep costs

down and profits up. Corporate farmers hardly

speak anymore of "raising" animals, with the

modicum of personal care that word implies.

Animals are "grown" now, like so many crops.

Barns somewhere along the way became "intensive

confinement facilities" and the inhabitants mere

"production units."

 

The result is a world in which billions of birds,

cows, pigs, and other creatures are locked away,

enduring miseries they do not deserve, for our

convenience and pleasure. We belittle the

activists with their radical agenda, scarcely

noticing the radical cruelty they seek to redress.

 

At the Smithfield mass-confinement hog farms I

toured in North Carolina, the visitor is greeted

by a bedlam of squealing, chain rattling, and

horrible roaring. To maximize the use of space

and minimize the need for care, the creatures are

encased row after row, 400 to 500 pound mammals

trapped without relief inside iron crates seven

feet long and 22 inches wide. They chew

maniacally on bars and chains, as foraging

animals will do when denied straw, or engage in

stereotypical nest-building with the straw that

isn't there, or else just lie there like broken

beings. The spirit of the place would be familiar

to police who raided that Tennessee puppy-mill

run by Stanley and Judy Johnson, only instead of

350 tortured animals, millions-and the law

prohibits none of it.

 

Efforts to outlaw the gestation crate have been

dismissed by various conservative critics as

"silly," "comical," "ridiculous." It doesn't seem

that way up close. The smallest scraps of human

charity-a bit of maternal care, room to roam

outdoors, straw to lie on-have long since been

taken away as costly luxuries, and so the pigs

know the feel only of concrete and metal. They

lie covered in their own urine and excrement,

with broken legs from trying to escape or just to

turn, covered with festering sores, tumors,

ulcers, lesions, or what my guide shrugged off as

the routine "pus pockets."

 

C.S. Lewis's description of animal pain-"begun by

Satan's malice and perpetrated by man's desertion

of his post"-has literal truth in our factory

farms because they basically run themselves

through the wonders of automation, and the owners

are off in spacious corporate offices reviewing

their spreadsheets. Rarely are the creatures'

afflictions examined by a vet or even noticed by

the migrant laborers charged with their care,

unless of course some ailment threatens

production-meaning who cares about a lousy ulcer

or broken leg, as long as we're still getting the

piglets?

 

Kept alive in these conditions only by

antibiotics, hormones, laxatives, and other

additives mixed into their machine-fed swill, the

sows leave their crates only to be driven or

dragged into other crates, just as small, to

bring forth their piglets. Then it's back to the

gestation crate for another four months, and so

on back and forth until after seven or eight

pregnancies they finally expire from the

punishment of it or else are culled with a club

or bolt-gun.

 

As you can see at www.factoryfarming

.com/gallery.htm, industrial livestock farming

operates on an economy of scale, presupposing a

steady attrition rate. The usual comforting

rejoinder we hear-that it's in the interest of

farmers to take good care of their animals-is

false. Each day, in every confinement farm in

America, you will find cull pens littered with

dead or dying creatures discarded like trash.

 

For the piglets, it's a regimen of teeth cutting,

tail docking (performed with pliers, to heighten

the pain of tail chewing and so deter this

natural response to mass confinement), and other

mutilations. After five or six months trapped in

one of the grim warehouses that now pass for

barns, they're trucked off, 355,000 pigs every

day in the life of America, for processing at a

furious pace of thousands per hour by migrants

who use earplugs to muffle the screams. All of

these creatures, and billions more across the

earth, go to their deaths knowing nothing of

life, and nothing of man, except the foul,

tortured existence of the factory farm, having

never even been outdoors.

 

But not to worry, as a Smithfield Foods executive

assured me, "They love it." It's all "for their

own good." It is a voice conservatives should

instantly recognize, as we do when it tells us

that the fetus feels nothing. Everything about

the picture shows bad faith, moral sloth, and

endless excuse-making, all readily answered by

conservative arguments.

 

We are told "they're just pigs" or cows or

chickens or whatever and that only urbanites

worry about such things, estranged as they are

from the realities of rural life. Actually, all

of factory farming proceeds by a massive denial

of reality-the reality that pigs and other

animals are not just production units to be

endlessly exploited but living creatures with

natures and needs. The very modesty of those

needs-their humble desires for straw, soil,

sunshine-is the gravest indictment of the men who

deny them.

 

Conservatives are supposed to revere tradition.

Factory farming has no traditions, no rules, no

codes of honor, no little decencies to spare for

a fellow creature. The whole thing is an

abandonment of rural values and a betrayal of

honorable animal husbandry-to say nothing of

veterinary medicine, with its sworn oath to

"protect animal health" and to "relieve animal

suffering."

 

Likewise, we are told to look away and think

about more serious things. Human beings simply

have far bigger problems to worry about than the

well being of farm animals, and surely all of

this zeal would be better directed at causes of

human welfare.

 

You wouldn't think that men who are unwilling to

grant even a few extra inches in cage space, so

that a pig can turn around, would be in any

position to fault others for pettiness. Why are

small acts of kindness beneath us, but not small

acts of cruelty? The larger problem with this

appeal to moral priority, however, is that we are

dealing with suffering that occurs through human

agency. Whether it's miserliness here,

carelessness there, or greed throughout, the

result is rank cruelty for which particular

people must answer.

 

Since refraining from cruelty is an obligation of

justice, moreover, there is no avoiding the

implications. All the goods invoked in defense of

factory farming, from the efficiency and higher

profits of the system to the lower costs of the

products, are false goods unjustly derived. No

matter what right and praiseworthy things we are

doing elsewhere in life, when we live off a cruel

and disgraceful thing like factory farming, we

are to that extent living unjustly, and that is

hardly a trivial problem.

 

For the religious-minded, and Catholics in

particular, no less an authority than Pope

Benedict XVI has explained the spiritual stakes.

Asked recently to weigh in on these very

questions, Cardinal Ratzinger told German

journalist Peter Seewald that animals must be

respected as our "companions in creation." While

it is licit to use them for food, "we cannot just

do whatever we want with them. ... Certainly, a

sort of 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 seems to me in fact to contradict the

relationship of mutuality that comes across in

the Bible."

 

Factory farmers also assure us that all of this

is an inevitable stage of industrial efficiency.

Leave aside the obvious reply that we could all

do a lot of things in life more efficiently if we

didn't have to trouble ourselves with ethical

restraints. Leave aside, too, the tens of

billions of dollars in annual federal subsidies

that have helped megafarms undermine small family

farms and the decent communities that once

surrounded them and to give us the illusion of

cheap products. And never mind the collateral

damage to land, water, and air that factory farms

cause and the more billions of dollars it costs

taxpayers to clean up after them. Factory farming

is a predatory enterprise, absorbing profit and

externalizing costs, unnaturally propped up by

political influence and government subsidies much

as factory-farmed animals are unnaturally

sustained by hormones and antibiotics.

 

Even if all the economic arguments were correct,

conservatives usually aren't impressed by

breathless talk of inevitable progress. I am

asked sometimes how a conservative could possibly

care about animal suffering in factory farms, but

the question is premised on a liberal caricature

of conservatism-the assumption that, for all of

our fine talk about moral values, "compassionate

conservatism" and the like, everything we really

care about can be counted in dollars. In the case

of factory farming, and the conservative's blithe

tolerance of it, the caricature is too close to

the truth.

 

Exactly how far are we all prepared to follow

these industrial and technological advances

before pausing to take stock of where things

stand and where it is all tending? Very soon

companies like Smithfield plan to have tens of

millions of cloned animals in their factory

farms. Other companies are at work genetically

engineering chickens without feathers so that one

day all poultry farmers might be spared the toil

and cost of de-feathering their birds. For years,

the many shills for our livestock industry

employed in the "Animal Science" and "Meat

Science" departments of rural universities (we

used to call them Animal Husbandry departments)

have been tampering with the genes of pigs and

other animals to locate and expunge that part of

their genetic makeup that makes them stressed in

factory farm conditions-taking away the desire to

protect themselves and to live. Instead of

redesigning the factory farm to suit the animals,

they are redesigning the animals to suit the

factory farm.

 

Are there no boundaries of nature and elementary

ethics that the conservative should be the first

to see? The hubris of such projects is beyond

belief, only more because of the foolish and

frivolous goods to be gained-blood-free meats and

the perfect pork chop.

 

No one who does not profit from them can look at

our modern factory farms or frenzied slaughter

plants or agricultural laboratories with their

featherless chickens and fear-free pigs and

think, "Yes, this is humanity at our

finest-exactly as things should be." Devils

charged with designing a farm could hardly have

made it more severe. Least of all should we look

for sanction in Judeo-Christian morality, whose

whole logic is one of gracious condescension, of

the proud learning to be humble, the higher

serving the lower, and the strong protecting the

weak.

 

Those religious conservatives who, in every

debate over animal welfare, rush to remind us

that the animals themselves are secondary and man

must come first are exactly right-only they don't

follow their own thought to its moral conclusion.

Somehow, in their pious notions of stewardship

and dominion, we always seem to end up with

singular moral dignity but no singular moral

accountability to go with it.

 

Lofty talk about humanity's special status among

creatures only invites such questions as: what

would the Good Shepherd make of our factory

farms? Where does the creature of conscience get

off lording it over these poor creatures so

mercilessly? "How is it possible," as Malcolm

Muggeridge asked in the years when factory

farming began to spread, "to look for God and

sing his praises while insulting and degrading

his creatures? If, as I had thought, all lambs

are the Agnus Dei, then to deprive them of light

and the field and their joyous frisking and the

sky is the worst kind of blasphemy."

 

TLofty talk about humanity's special status among

creatures only invites such questions as: what

would the Good Shepherd make of our factory

farms? Where does the creature of conscience get

off lording it over these poor creatures so

mercilessly? "How is it possible," as Malcolm

Muggeridge asked in the years when factory

farming began to spread, "to look for God and

sing his praises while insulting and degrading

his creatures? If, as I had thought, all lambs

are the Agnus Dei, then to deprive them of light

and the field and their joyous frisking and the

sky is the worst kind of blasphemy."

 

The writer B.R. Meyers remarked in The Atlantic,

"research could prove that cows love Jesus, and

the line at the McDonald's drive-through wouldn't

be one sagging carload shorter the next day Š.

Has any generation in history ever been so ready

to cause so much suffering for such a trivial

advantage? We deaden our consciences to enjoy-for

a few minutes a day-the taste of blood, the feel

of our teeth meeting through muscle."

 

That is a cynical but serious indictment, and we

must never let it be true of us in the choices we

each make or urge upon others. If reason and

morality are what set human beings apart from

animals, then reason and morality must always

guide us in how we treat them, or else it's all

just caprice, unbridled appetite with the

pretense of piety. When people say that they like

their pork chops, veal, or foie gras just too

much ever to give them up, reason hears in that

the voice of gluttony, willfulness, or at best

moral complaisance. What makes a human being

human is precisely the ability to understand that

the suffering of an animal is more important than

the taste of a treat.

 

Of the many conservatives who reviewed Dominion,

every last one conceded that factory farming is a

wretched business and a betrayal of human

responsibility. So it should be a short step to

agreement that it also constitutes a serious

issue of law and public policy. Having granted

that certain practices are abusive, cruel, and

wrong, we must be prepared actually to do

something about them.

 

Among animal activists, of course, there are some

who go too far-there are in the best of causes.

But fairness requires that we judge a cause by

its best advocates instead of making straw men of

the worst. There isn't much money in championing

the cause of animals, so we're dealing with some

pretty altruistic people who on that account

alone deserve the benefit of the doubt.

 

If we're looking for fitting targets for inquiry

and scorn, for people with an angle and a truly

pernicious influence, better to start with groups

like Smithfield Foods (my candidate for the worst

corporation in America in its ruthlessness to

people and animals alike), the National Pork

Producers Council (a reliable Republican

contributor), or the various think tanks in

Washington subsidized by animal-use industries

for intellectual cover.

 

After the last election, the National Pork

Producers Council rejoiced, "President Bush's

victory ensures that the U.S. pork industry will

be very well positioned for the next four years

politically, and pork producers will benefit from

the long-term results of a livestock

agriculture-friendly agenda." But this is no

tribute. And millions of good people who live in

what's left of America's small family-farm

communities would themselves rejoice if the

president were to announce that he is prepared to

sign a bipartisan bill making some basic reforms

in livestock agriculture.

 

Bush's new agriculture secretary, former Nebraska

Gov. Mike Johanns, has shown a sympathy for

animal welfare. He and the president might both

be surprised at the number and variety of

supporters such reforms would find in the

Congress, from Republicans like Chris Smith and

Elton Gallegly in the House to John Ensign and

Rick Santorum in the Senate, along with Democrats

such as Robert Byrd, Barbara Boxer, or the North

Carolina congressman who called me in to say that

he, too, was disgusted and saddened by hog

farming in his state.

 

If such matters were ever brought to President

Bush's attention in a serious way, he would find

in the details of factory farming many things

abhorrent to the Christian heart and to his own

kindly instincts. Even if he were to drop into

relevant speeches a few of the prohibited words

in modern industrial agriculture (cruel, humane,

compassionate), instead of endlessly flattering

corporate farmers for virtues they lack, that

alone would help to set reforms in motion.

 

We need our conservative values voters to get

behind a Humane Farming Act so that we can all

quit averting our eyes. This reform, a set of

explicit federal cruelty statutes with

enforcement funding to back it up, would leave us

with farms we could imagine without wincing,

photograph without prosecution, and explain

without excuses.

 

The law would uphold not only the elementary

standards of animal husbandry but also of

veterinary ethics, following no more complicated

a principle than that pigs and cows should be

able to walk and turn around, fowl to move about

and spread their wings, and all creatures to know

the feel of soil and grass and the warmth of the

sun. No need for labels saying "free-range" or

"humanely raised." They will all be raised that

way. They all get to be treated like animals and

not as unfeeling machines.

 

On a date certain, mass confinement, sow

gestation crates, veal crates, battery cages, and

all such innovations would be prohibited. This

will end livestock agriculture's moral race to

the bottom and turn the ingenuity of its

scientists toward compassionate solutions. It

will remove the federal support that unnaturally

serves agribusiness at the expense of small

farms. And it will shift economies of scale,

turning the balance in favor of humane farmers-as

those who run companies like Wal-Mart could do

right now by taking their business away from

factory farms.

 

In all cases, the law would apply to corporate

farmers a few simple rules that better men would

have been observing all along: we cannot just

take from these creatures, we must give them

something in return. We owe them a merciful

death, and we owe them a merciful life. And when

human beings cannot do something humanely,

without degrading both the creatures and

ourselves, then we should not do it at all.

 

- Matthew Scully served until last fall as

special assistant and deputy director of

speechwriting to President George W. Bush. He is

the author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the

Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.