Part two of Greg Boyd's "Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms" provides some startling evidence for just how poorly (to put it mildly) animals, literally billions of them, are routinely cared for in our industrialized "factory farms":
Here are just a few examples of the typical treatment animals receive in our factory farms to satisfy our appetite for meat:
* Up to a dozen chickens are squeezed into sixteen inch cages, stacked four or five high, in which they cannot so much as spread a wing. This is how they spend their entire miserable lives.
* These over-crowded, over-stressed conditions produce hostile behavior. To prevent chickens from plucking each other to death and thus lose profits for the factory farm industry, these poor creatures are “debeaked” (as are turkeys and sometimes ducks). This involves using a searing hot blade to cut through the bone, cartilage, soft tissue and nerves of the beaks of these abused birds.
* Cattle are routinely castrated, have their horns cut off and are branded with a searing hot iron, all without the use of pain killers. During auction and shipping their movement is controlled by electric prods (called “hotshots”) that send painful, high-voltage shocks through the cow’s body.
* Because of the speed with which it must be carried out, the slaughtering of cattle is not always efficient. Some are consequently still conscious when they’re dismembered.
* Dairy cows spend the bulk of their existence in crammed quarters, hooked up to a milk machine. They are impregnated each year to keep milk production going and have their young taken from them almost immediately after birth, an act that is unnatural and traumatizing to both the calf and its mother.
* Once taken from their mothers, calves are frequently kept in tiny crates in which they cannot turn around or even lay down comfortably. To produce veal, male calves are fed an unnatural diet to keep them borderline anemic. This keeps their meat white and tender. When they’re just several months old, they’re slaughtered.
* The worst victims of the factory farm industry, in my estimation, are pigs. Gene research has recently revealed that pigs are one of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. These poor beasts are routinely castrated, have their ears and tails cut and have their teeth yanked out all without the use of any anesthesia. The shrieks of pain heard throughout these ordeals are gut wrenching (see the film Farm to Fridge).
* Pigs are customarily kept in narrow stalls that allow them to do nothing more than stare ahead their entire lives. Because pigs are extremely intelligent creatures – more so than most breeds of dog – they often go insane in this confinement, sometimes gnawing at their own limbs (which is why many factory farms yank out their teeth). They are pumped full of hormones to stimulate unnatural growth, and many get to the point where their legs won’t support their body weight any longer. These must then be dragged to slaughter.
* Pigs are commonly packed so tightly into transportation trucks that many are crushed to death in the process. As with cattle, the slaughtering process is far from perfect, and some are yet conscious when they are scalded in boiling water to have their hair removed.
If you saw your neighbor torturing their dog the way factory farms torture pigs and other animals, you’d immediately call the police and the man would be prosecuted for cruelty to animals. If your neighbor did this to numerous animals over time, he’d eventually be locked up (despite how pathetic our laws against animal cruelty are). Yet when billions of animals are treated in this barbaric way on factory farms, we not only look the other way, we actually support it and fund it — if, in fact, we consume the beasts these farms torture! And the only reason we do this is because we like the way they taste.
There’s no question that this calloused treatment of animals on factory farms is an efficient way of processing meat that helps keep its price down. But there’s also no question that this represents the antithesis of the loving and compassionate dominion God intended humans to exercise over animals. We’re called to reflect God’s loving and compassionate character in the way we treat animals. There’s nothing — nothing – loving and compassionate about the way animals are treated on factory farms. Their lives on these farms are a living hell.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to manifest the reign of God in every area of my life. Since torturing animals is not consistent with the reign of God, I feel I cannot help fund an institution that does this.
Undoubtedly, someone will respond: “What practical difference will it make for one individual to refuse to benefit from the butchery of the slaughter houses? They’re going to continue to operate regardless of what you or any other individual does.” The same argument was used to justify Northern Americans reaping benefits from slavery before the civil war. For all their protesting, few Northerners boycotted the South’s slave-driven cotton industry. This argument is simply a poor, morally vacuous argument.
But even if we grant that refusing to benefit from animal torture on factory farms doesn’t make any practical difference, this shouldn’t affect the behavior of followers of Jesus in the least. We are called to do what we do not because its practically expedient, but simply because we are called to do it. Faithfulness, not pragmatism, is our motivation. Our call is not to pragmatically fix the world, but to simply be the Kingdom.
At the same time, we have to remember that every Kingdom act we engage in, including our refusal to participate in unnecessary violence toward animals, is an act of resistance against the Principalities and Powers and helps weaken their stronghold on the earth. While we may not be able to empirically measure the impact our revolt against violence has on the world, we can trust that our loving revolt is, in fact, making a significant difference. (My forthcoming book Revolting Beauty will explore this idea in depth.)
If you’re a person committed to seeking first the Kingdom of God (Mt 6:33), please take God’s mandate to care for animals seriously. Prayerfully reflect on your own treatment of animals and the treatment you support by your lifestyle choices. If you choose to eat meat (which, as I’ve repeatedly said, is not prohibited in Scripture), I encourage you to purchase it from free range farms that at least allow farm animals to enjoy a natural life in the open air. (By the way, this also applies to the consumption of all dairy products.)
Yes, food from free range farms is more expensive. But consider the enormous price you force animals to pay when you insist on buying it a little cheaper.
Eat under the reign of God.
For those who want to go further with this topic, here are a few good books:
Linzey, A. Animal Theology (University of Illinois Press, 1995). A hard hitting book that shows how the Christian tradition has tended to neglect God’s call to extend merciful care to animals. The book includes a great, biblically based, polemic against the modern “commodification” of animals, as demonstrated most poignantly by the creation of industrial farms.
Scully, M. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003). An eloquent, compelling book that offers the best single expose I know of on how cruelly humans tend to treat animals. A real eye-opening book! (Warning: This book may make you a vegetarian!)
Webb, S. On God and Dogs (Oxford University Press, 2001). If you’re willing to read only one book on the topic of the biblical view of the treatment of animals, read this one. Webb presents a balanced but compelling case that Christians have a responsibility to extend God’s grace to animals.
(From "Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms," originally posted Feb. 16, '08, and courtesy Greg Boyd, ©. Photos courtesy Farm Sanctuary, ©. I hope you can catch the first posts in Greg's series, "Why I'm a Vegetarian" and "First Fruits of the Coming Non-Violent Creation," and part one of today's post.)