August 3, 2007

Small Family Farms Are Better?

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan, veganism at 2:13 am by nevavegan

I read the Animal Welfare Institute’s statement about the inclusion of farmers (only farmers who raise and slaughter animals incidentally, no farmers of organic veggies were invited) in the Taking Action for Animals Conference.

Though I was thrilled to hear that in addition to concern for animal welfare AWI also opposes “counterproductive marketing techniques” for animal exploiters, I’m still not sure I understand what they’re saying with that.

As the Tribe of Heart essay pointed out, we’re on the brink of a major environmental catastrophe and animal agriculture is one of the primary culprits. Do small family farms offer us a way to keep eating animals but be better for the environment? In a word, no.

The reason why small family farms are better for the immediate environment is that they have fewer animals. IE you’d rather live next door to Joe Bob and his 10 cows than right beside Cows, Inc and their feedlot of a thousand or more cows. Fewer animals in one spot means fewer greenhouse gases emitted and less feces and urine going into the water supply. There would be less smell and less use of antibiotics to fight the rampant often resistant diseases that flourish in these settings

That’s good news, right? It’s good news maybe, but it’s incomplete news.

Joe Bob’s cows cost more to produce and he sells them at a premium to places like Whole Foods that promote “humane meat.” Animal welfare organizations encourage people to buy their chunks of cow flesh from Whole Foods or other stores that sell “compassionate” animal products. But this remains the realm of people who are better off, who have the extra money to buy these premium products. Everyone else is still buying from Cows, Inc, and Pigs, Inc., and Chickens, Inc., etc. So while these “free range” animal products are a symbolic gesture of concern for animals they make little difference for the vast majority of the animals tortured and killed so we can eat their bodies.

Does this mean that we need to do more to promote Joe Bob so he can sell more cows? What about legislating Cows, Inc to improve the conditions there?

None of these solutions will work because we aren’t addressing the demand side of this equation. Even if it were ok for Joe Bob to breed, raise, and ultimately slaughter cows to feed wealthy people, there just isn’t space in the world to graze all the cows people want to buy and eat. Would the 25 million cows slaughtered each year in the US cause less environmental damage if they were never put into feed lots? Where would we put 25 million cows? In your backyard?

There is no way that 25 million cows (not to mention all those raised and slaughtered abroad) could not have an environmental impact. So the only way to address these issues is to not buy the flesh of cows so fewer cows will be bred into existence. The only thing that can eliminate factory farming is massive conversion to vegan diets because there is no way enough animals can be raised “free range” to meet the overwhelming demand for animal flesh. There is not enough grazing land for that many “grass fed” cows, not enough happy farms with red barns for all those chickens to see sunlight and hunt for bugs. There is not enough space or resources, so it makes sense to try to chip away at this from the demand side of the equation.

Can we work with “humane” farmers and small family farms to further this goal? To improve things a little at a time?

No. Very simply our goals are at opposition. We say that we accept that some people will never become vegan so we must compromise. But let’s imagine that despite whatever compromises we make we are far more wildly successful at converting people to veganism than we ever imagined. That would put these people out of business, so we are at cross-purposes.

In addition I think that large gains in the number of vegans would hit these “humane farmers” harder than factory farms, as the people willing to spend more and go to special stores for “humane” products are generally the ones who care and might be receptive to the idea of veganism. No wonder these farmers would like to ally themselves with us and get our endorsement for their animal flesh. They want that “humane” seal of approval, they want us in the animal rights/environmental community to tell the people who listen us that people can eat this type of meat and still do the right thing. The question I have more trouble with is why we’re so eager to join forces with them.

Small family farmers like to talk about the close relationship, love and caring, that they share with the animals they raise and slaughter for profit. If I learned anything from reading Frederick Douglas it’s that even the best intentions become perverted when one human being owns another. When economic systems depend on the exploitation of others anyone entering into that system can become a monster, no matter how much they thought they cared before their livelihood depended on not caring.

These people may say that they care about their animals, they may even believe they care about them. But they still slaughter them at young ages and purposefully breed animals into this world only for the purpose of killing them.

Because I grew up in an agricultural setting I’ve seen things that defy explanation. I’ve seen a woman cry because foxes got into her yard and killed some of her chickens, only to turn around a few weeks later and chop the heads off the surviving chickens. I’ve seen a man mourn the loss of his hunting dog as if the dog were a person and then purposefully drown an entire litter of puppies because he was unable to sell them. I’ve seen the idealized “small family farmer” openly beating and kicking animals that weren’t cooperating. Sure it’s better than factory farms still, but don’t confuse what is going on here with true compassion.

This push to promote and work with small farmers and “humane” farmers is a wrong turn for the movement.



  1. Ericao said,

    What I thought was so odd about that panel at the conference was that, despite what AWI says, the whole conference was very vegan-centric. The first half of that day was VEGANISM VEGANISM VEGANISM. Then all of a sudden we’re supposed to care about “humane” farming? Listen to people talk about the relationships they form with animals they send off to death and feel good about that? If people have to buy meat, yes, it’s better if the animals get to live somewhat natural, comfortable lives. But, like you say, it’s not sustainable or realistic. It was not the highlight of TAFA.

  2. Anonymous said,

    Are you all idiots? HSUS, WSPA, IFAW and most of the others aren’t vegan. They all endorse farm animal standards called Certified Humane which do allow for horrible farm animal practices. You were blinded by stupidity to realize the real problems. Those groups who are vegan Farm Sanctuary and Peta also do stupid things. No wonder our effort to promote veganism doesn’t go anywhere. You all spend time attacking those trying to do something, but ignore the real problems.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Ericao for your comments. I was at TAFA but only to table so I didn’t see the presentations. It’s very encouraging to hear that veganism was promoted there, because to look at the tabling area where the “humane” farming people were at the front with the biggest tables, it was easy to get the opposite impression. Good to hear!

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