5 min read

Humane Meat And Agricultural Fantasylands

In the field of sustainable agriculture, there's enough magical thinking going around to cause vertigo. I hear it from purveyors of humane meat especially. They're going to provide "cruelty-free" meat from livestock cuddled with love, pastured pork from pigs who were never harmed before their trip to the slaughterhouse for that "one bad day," and - the perhaps the most common but least plausible of all - cattle whose manure and hoof action are going to restore global grasslands and reverse global warming.

The magical thinking continues with those who promise to end the use of fossil fuel. Solar (and, to a lesser extent, wind) will take over oil and gas. Animals will help us convert sun into flesh. Led by the organic lobby, farmers will replace synthetic fertilizer with composted manure. Biological control will replace chemical insecticides, especially in the organic sector. Fuel required to truck produce will diminish to virtually nothing as local farmers stock our larders. And so on.

As an advocate for the abolition of animal agriculture, I work hard to negotiate this fantasyland of hopeful thought. I certainly do envision a day when the domestication of animals is no longer a part of modern agriculture. When I indulge that vision, I feel fairly confident that it's doable. That it's grounded in reality. But when I contemplate the animal rights' endgame - the abolition of all animal suffering in every arena of life - I agree with the sentiment while quietly wondering if I'm not engaging in the same sort of fantastic thought that Allan Savory engages in when he argues that cattle can reverse global warming. Do I really think that's possible?, I ask myself. In my more honest moments, I'm unsure.

While maintaining our ideals, advocates for animals must also be ready to reluctantly compromise. Not doing so lands us in the same arena of unreality that allows agrarian tricksters to tell us agriculture can provide a cruelty-free free lunch. There are no free lunches. There is no perfection in agriculture. Nothing even close. As long as we eat, there will be some level of animal suffering. We should work to reduce it without losing touch with this reality. The past is littered with magic thoughts that lasted a long time and then faded into the past, brought up as evidence of a loony generation.

That's no fate for animal advocacy, but if we lose touch it could be.