BOOKS: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics & Money
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2005:
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 transformation 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
Next Marcus suggests ways of reducing unnecessary cruelty,
i.e. unnecessary 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 solution.
Each vegan spares the lives of the thousands of animals eaten in a
lifetime by the average person.
Marcus advocates outreach programs aimed at younger consumers
in order to encourage the growth of vegetarianism
Marcus becomes less convincing when he advocates launching a
new movement to dismantle the meat industry. It is understandable
that Marcus wants to distance 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 outreach programs, yes, but
inevitably too from the existing pool of animal activists, whom
agribusiness propagandists could quickly reconnect with the AR
Writes Marcus on page 83:
“Just as slavery was once America’s most pressing human
rights violation, 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 important work done in other
animal advocacy causes, including opposition to hunting, medical
research, and companion animal welfare practices that interface with
opposition to meat consumption.
Marcus is correct that the numbers involved in animal
agriculture support his proposition. But numbers alone are not the
whole measure of the value of an enterprise. 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
Besides, canned lion hunting– my own focal issue–is itself
a form of factory farming, abusing wildlife as “alternative
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 values
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 conciseness, 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 consuming 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.