We need to encourage a relationship with our farm animals that is mutualy beneficial. Farmers are not evil, they are just supplying the demand of the consumer: good food as cheap as possible. Evolutionarily, farm animals have done very well under the management of farmers. There are close to 20 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cattle, and 1 billion pigs in the world (1). As an evolutionary strategy, being domesticated has worked very well. However, there is always room for improvement and every industry could improve the way they care for their animals to maximize their quality of life.
Grass fed and finished beef cattle already live a life very close to nature, and when they are managed with rotational grazing, they can sequester carbon in the soil and actually improve the environment (2). Demand for grass fed beef is increasing but the bull calves of the dairy industry could also be raised as grass fed beef. Instead they are typically kept as veal. Beef sourced from the dairy industry would be even more sustainable than regular grass fed beef because the mothers are hard working dairy cows.
Demand for grass fed dairy products are also increasing, but there remains one major hurdle to giving these mother cows a great quality of life. It is still standard practice on dairy farms to remove calves as soon as possible. Leaving calves with their mothers is considered irresponsible because of the higher death rates in newborn calves. The largest concern is pneumonia. However, pneumonia is a direct result of poor housing conditions. Calves are often housed in barns with modern ventilation systems to prevent lung infections and maintain health and vitality. With a little more ingenuity, we could design facilities with modern venitilation systems where cows and their calves can both thrive, so that separating them will no longer be necessary.
Chicken is the most popular meat in the developed world. However, most consumers are unaware that chickens only live to be six weeks old. To maximize their quality of life, farm animals should at least be able to live to their mature size. An alternative could be free range turkey products cut to an equivalent portion size, and allow chickens to live a longer life laying eggs. Free range poultry is great for improving the birds quality of life, but better yet would be pasture raised birds. They are cleaner and have more bugs to eat when they are on rotating pastures, allowing for healthier birds and a healthier environment.
Pigs are incredibly intelligent and, like dogs, are easily frustrated with a lack of stimulation. Pigs evolved in forests and would find endless stimulation if they were raised in mixed woods and pastures. Pigs keep a forest in a state of transition which is actually when it sequesters the most carbon per year. Their destructive nature actually benefits the environment while keeping them entertained. In modern agriculture, mother pigs are typically housed in farrowing crates while nursing to prevent them from crushing their piglets - farrowing crates are tiny pens designed to stop the mother from moving. There is research that shows there isn't much difference between standard farrowing systems and outdoor free range farrowing huts when it comes to mortality rates(3). So there is opportunity to improve the quality of life of these mother pigs as well.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of wild caught fish. However, not all wild caught fish are created equal. It is important buy from a responsibly managed fishery that avoids over fishing and damaging the environment.
Cost of Production:
The obvious argument is that it is unrealistic to prioritize an animal's quality of life, because it will increase the cost of production. This isn't necessarily true, especially when comparing the full life cycle of grass fed beef from the dairy industry to regular grass fed beef where the mother isn't producing anything for the rest of the year. In the long term, these production models will naturally become more efficient. This is what happened with fair trade coffee. Today, we can find fair trade and regular coffee for essentially the same price. It is the intent to maximize quality of life that will lead to creative solutions over time. A market must exist for ethical meat to provide the breeding grounds for continued innovation. The goal of "Moral Eats" is to improve the lives of farm animals by creating and supplying the demand for ethically raised meat. Join our mailing list to show your support.
1. Robinson TP, Wint WGR, Conchedda G, Van Boeckel TP, Ercoli V Palamara E, Cinardi G, D'Aietti L, Hay SI, Gilbert M. Mapping the global Distribution of Livestock. Journals Plos One. 2014; 10.1371
2. Stanley PL, Rawntree JE, Beede DK DeLonge MS Hamm MW. Impact of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems. Science Direct. 2018;162. 249-58
3. Johnson AK, Marrow-Tesch JL, McGlone JJ. Behavior and performance of lactating sows and piglets indoors or outdoors. J Animals Sci. 2001;79:2571-9.