BOOKS: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics & Money

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1995:

Meat Market:
Animals, Ethics & Money
by Erik Marcus
Brio Press (244 Blakeslee, Hill Road,
Suite 5, Newfield, NY 14867), 2005.
273 pages, hardcover. $21.95.
Erik Marcus writes crisply in this
book about the evils of factory farming. He
disposes of common misconceptions and
exaggerated arguments, frequently
employed both by industry apologists and
Animal Rights activists. His logic is clearly
expressed and his prose flows tightly. In
fact the book is so easy to read that it would
make an excellent text book for humane
education and animal law courses.
Marcus examines the transforma-
tion of animal agriculture since 1950 and
analyses the growth of factory farming at
the expense of small family-owned farms.
Aiming squarely at urban activists
who have no clear understanding of farming
methods, he introduces us to the life of a
layer hen, describing in harrowing detail
her tortured life. Then he does the same for
broiler chickens, pigs, dairy cows, and
beef cattle.

Next Marcus suggests ways of
reducing unnecessary cruelty, i.e. unneces-
sary in the business sense of being not cost
effective. Marcus concedes that factory
farming achieves the objective of keeping
meat prices low and yet making profits.
After discussing why animal
activists have failed to make real progress
against the cruelty of factory farming,
Marcus contemplates how to dismantle
such a large and powerful industry.
Accepting that change will have
to take place at a sub-political level,
Marcus suggests that veganism is the solu-
tion. Each vegan spares the lives of the
thousands of animals eaten in a lifetime by
the average person.
Marcus advocates outreach pro-
grams aimed at younger consumers in order
to encourage the growth of vegetarianism
Marcus becomes less convincing
when he advocates launching a new move-
ment to dismantle the meat industry. It is
understandable that Marcus wants to dis-
tance himself from the AR militants whom
he believes discredit everyone involved in
trying to stop cruelty to animals. But where
would all the people come from to comprise
the Dismantlement Movement? From out-
reach programs, yes, but inevitably too
from the existing pool of animal activists,
whom agribusiness propagandists could
quickly reconnect with the AR movement.
Writes Marcus on page 83:
“Just as slavery was once
America’s most pressing human rights vio-
lation, there can be no doubt that the effort
to eliminate cruelty to animals should focus
on agriculture. Animal agriculture accounts
for more than 97% of animals killed by
humans in the USA.
“Farmed animals therefore
deserve priority and arguments made on
their behalf should not be weakened by
lumping in rhetoric pertaining to hunting,
medical research or companion animals.”
This logic trivializes the impor-
tant work done in other animal advocacy
causes, including opposition to hunting,
medical research, and companion animal
welfare practices that interface with opposi-
tion to meat consumption.
Marcus is correct that the num-
bers involved in animal agriculture support
his proposition. But numbers alone are not
the whole measure of the value of an enter-
prise. People campaign for lions, tigers,
harp seals, moon bears, and gorillas
because they care passionately about them.
Far from weakening the campaign
against factory farming we believe that
exposing cruelty to animals of any species
helps to build a general societal consensus
that no animals should be mistreated.
Besides, canned lion hunting––
my own focal issue––is itself a form of fac-
tory farming, abusing wildlife as “alterna-
tive livestock.”
The notion of creating a Dis-
mantlement Movement might be justified,
however awkwardly, if it rested on a new
or unique moral foundation. But Marcus
relies upon the same moral and ethical val-
ues long used by vegetarians, animal rights
advocates, and animal welfarists, differing
merely in his tactical preferences.
In political lexicon, a group of
groups is called a “front,” and we venture
to suggest that this is really what Marcus
wants and needs: groups who share his
tactical ideas getting together to form a
front to campaign jointly for the abolition
of factory farming.
Possibly in the interest of con-
ciseness, Marcus has not dealt with any
longterm macro-economic effects of factory
farming, such as the global petroleum
shortage that many resource economists
believe is imminent. One wonders whether
factory farming will not die a natural death
in the post-petroleum world, now just 20
years away by some estimates.
An over-populous society which
crowds into cities where it is pathetically
reliant upon a fast depleting commodity like
oil to put food on the plate cannot last
indefinitely. A meat industry which has
flourished during the oil glut by burning oil
to grow food for animals, to transport those
feeds to massive captive breeding facilities,
and then to transport the dead product to
city markets, must inevitably unravel.
If the meat cannot be brought to
market, but the markets still insist on con-
suming it, then the markets must go to the
meat. Urban societies may disperse back to
the countryside, as the Internet facilitates
decentralized commerce, and a new era
might begin for the small family
farm––much as the back-to-the-earthers
prematurely predicted during their exodus
to the countryside after the petroleum crisis
of the early 1970s.
––Chris Mercer
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