Effects of Transitions in North American Animal Agriculture on Animal Well-being: Personal Observations

in Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research

Abstract

People involved with production animal agriculture in the U.S., including owners and workers, are often portrayed as callous to animal welfare. While callous people exist in any population, I maintain that most people who own and work with farm animals do consider animal welfare, both for moral and economic reasons. It is rare that stressed, unhealthy or injured animals are more profitable than healthy, unstressed ones. Furthermore, the owners of farm animals and related facilities overwhelmingly are families or individuals (~97%), not corporations; most owners of so-called industrial farms are but a generation removed from so-called family farms, and most of these owners still have values similar to those of traditional family farms, although their hired workers may not. Farmers need to have income, so husbandry practices need to be profitable for farms to be sustainable. However, production animal agriculture has not been very profitable, partly because most products are commodities, and this low profitability has been a major cause of the huge decrease in numbers of farmers and farm units over the past century. The net result is larger units with less attention paid to individual animals, which can be problematic, but does not necessarily result in decreased animal welfare. Modern genetic tools and facilities can be used to promote animal welfare simultaneously with improving production efficiency and economic viability.