Animal Farming: Is there a higher moral order of humanity guarding us from unfettered, greed-driven capitalism?

Nature and life have always had its own rhythms, seasons, and quantities when it comes to growth and follow a “invisible hand”, which guides the global harmony and balance. However, when technology came into the scene of nature, it has brought with it a completely new set of logic to impose on life and nature – a much more efficient and reliable schedule and quantity. By going against the original rhythm of original, harmony of nature and life and demand from it mankind’s own wants and terms — technologizing nature — is essentially an act of rebellion. ‘Without this rebellion, we would all still live nasty and short lives of toil, drudgery, and discomfort’ (Mokyr, viii).

There are, however, vices to such “free lunch” produced by the technological rebellion – mainly cruelty towards life and nature. Inside a society where efficiency come first, quality of life and morality evaporates (e.g. unbearable, mental and physical stress and suffering on life to produce more goods for the endless human demand for material utility). A tension has always existed between the capitalistic imperative to maximize efficiency and the moral imperatives of religion or some abstract, universal principal to counterbalance the ethical blindness of the market economy.

‘Today’s culture has a tendency to allow the economic impulses to erode the moral underpinnings of society. Mercy towards animals is one such casualty’ (Pollan 14). And the American beef industry offers glimpses into what “technologizing life” can do to animals in the absence of some sense of a higher, moral order. These cattle are no longer considered life but instead become “animal-as-technologies” to serve as means of protein production for the meat market. We shall look at the process of cattle farming. The cattle’s life, its eating habits, environment, death, and sales becomes a continuum of technologizing nature, with many unseen, long-term vices, and violations of intrinsic morality regarding “rights of life.”

(Or a feeling of spirituality and meaning to one’s existence when it comes to IcoC’s old doctrine and control.)

“On average, a single American farmer today grows enough food each year to feed 100 people. But this accomplishment has come at a price” (Pollan – Playing God in the Garden, 1).” Farmers no longer grow their crops in a “natural” process. Fertilizers, large quantities of chemical inputs, and genetically-modified, monocultured seeds are all aim at minimizing the input cost and maximizing the output rate. This is the essence of technologizing nature and unfettered capitalism. Animal farming on the other hand is the same artificially enhanced process, like the seeds, except experimenting on life, which are capable of feelings and pain – the artificiality to raise yield causes immense suffering on the animals.

‘Animal farming processes animals on an assembly line, like cars or computer chips. Open-field grazing for cattle became inefficient and soon gave to the confinement feed lot operations, or “factory farms.” In there, thousands upon thousands of penned cattle could be fattened inside troughs. This was an economy of scale’ (Ozeki, 125). Each cattle becomes a linear, homogenized, production unit where all their natural instincts are striped: their habitat is permanently confined to their feedlot; their immunity is enhanced with constant doses of antibiotics; their natural growth pattern is sped up to meet the desired weight faster.

To help the cattle meet the desired weight faster and reduce feed cost, the cattle’s diet of natural grass or all the “messy hay” is changed into technological food. Instead, cattle farms turn to corn, ‘recycled cardboard, newspaper, by-products from potato chips, breweries, liquor distilleries, sawdust, wood chips, and even by-products from the cattle slaughterhouse – recycling cattle right back into cattle’ (Ozeki 258). Also there is even plastic hay, which is clean and easy to deliver through an automated feed system. ‘You only need to feed a ratio of one to forty compared to regular hay … it’s a saving of about eleven cents a day per head’ (Ozeki 259).

Cement is used too. ‘Cement dust is high in calcium, and the cows in the tests put on weight thirty percent faster than normal feed, and the meat was more tender and juicy’ (Ozeki 259). Even the animal’s own by-products are recycled: ‘The formulated feed is expensive, and the animals dispose about two-thirds of it before they even digest it.’(Ozeki 260). Some farmers claim that they save about ten thousand dollars a year by doing such “animal-waste” recycling. But some people argue that such feed program can cause a return of mad cow disease by using recycled cattle parts and waste like in 1987. (Ozeki 258) But in sum, whatever increases cattle growth and decreases input cost, it is put into the cattle feed.

These animals’ life styles are also so constricted so that they have no other choice but to eat food at all times (definitely not of their original preference). ‘You can see the cattle’s immense suffering through their bloodshot eyes under such constant, unnatural, force-feed program, [including their own feces]’ (Pollan – Power steer, 10). Such life for the animals can only be described with words such as stress, suffering, and madness. For some of chicken farms, “the 10 percent or so of hens that can’t bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production” (Polan, 14). Such pitiless life from “hell” for the animals is the result of the unfettered, industrial logic: open-field, grazed cattle cost more to raise than these inhumanly-bred, hormonally and antibiotically enhanced cows.

Artificial hormones such as DES are added to the cattle feed – on top of the unnatural, cattle feed – to further increase growth efficiency. ‘DES is the best and the cheapest growth enhancer [in the world right now]’ (Ozeki 257). But now it is illegal because traces of DES gets left behind in the slaughtered cattle meat. DES, or diethylstilbestrol, is a man-made estrogen that when consumed as residues inside hormonally-enhanced meat, human males develop signs of feminization such as “impotence, infertility, gynecomastia (enlarged and tender breasts), and [even] changes in their voices…” (Ozeki 124).

And later, the link between DES and human cancer was established – DES use was banned from the animal farming industry. However, although DES is illegal today, “95 percent of feedlot cattle in the U.S. still receive some form of growth-promoting hormone or pharmaceutical in feed supplements. The residues are present in the finished cuts of beef sold in the local supermarket or hanging off your plate” (Ozeki 126). (The new legal growth hormone is called Synovex, made of Estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone (Ozeki 257).) And the same goes with antibiotic residues inside the meat.

When the cattle are tightly packed together in these overcrowded farms, their habitat become breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases. ‘Thus cattle are [constantly] given antibiotics as a preventive and pre-emptive measure, which collects in the meat because they are never able to walk [it off] in their [confined] boxes.

The farmers keep their cattle alive with these massive doses of drugs just long enough to kill them’ (Ozeki 60). The side-effects of this economy of scale procedure are that the human clients occasionally suffer allergic reactions to the antibiotic residue from the meat; sometimes, they even lead to anaphylactic shock. Also ‘All kinds of virulent bacteria are already becoming resistant and it won’t be long before the antibiotics loose its effectiveness’ (Ozeki 60). If the antibiotics do, it will be like “we’re headed backward in time, toward a pre-antibiotic age” (Ozeki 60). One day we might be defenseless against common infections.

Cattle’s death is perfected by industrial efficiency standards as well as its cruelty. Cows are first lined up and headed one by one into a pen to be slaughtered by a homogenized fashioned. The process begins with one cow being stunned on to the floor by an electric prod, and then being pushed into the killing pen by steel doors slamming in from behind. Next, a five-inch retractable bolt is fired into the cattle’s brain – not to kill, but to further complete the stun: the cruelty of this part increases the efficiency of cleaning and stripping the cow. A worker now comes in to attach a chain around the cow’s hind leg while it’s collapsed and twitching on the floor.

The chain, attached to a winch, hoists the cow into the air. Now someone cuts deep into the throat of the cow and slice it crosswise and also plunge it straight into the cow’s heart. “This is why it is important that the cow be stunned but not dead when her throat is cut – the blood gushes out in rhythmic spurts, expelled by the still pumping heart muscle” (Ozeki, 284). For the final procedure involves using power tools to perform lopping off hooves, decapitating, eviscerating, and etc.

The cultural tension over such a cruel but cheap “lunch” provided through technological rebellion against nature lies within the struggle between price and morality. We want it all. We want the fairy tale story of nice guy (or in this case cow farmers) to finish first and also a pain free way to produce the meat that is – at its heart — the cheapest on a free market economy. But life unfortunately doesn’t work this way. Unfettered capitalism almost always rewards the best and the cheapest goods and labor (at the cost of life and its dignity) without a care for the products’ history or how it got there (e.g. testing makeup on animals is another well-known example).

Such ethically-blinded, economic impulse can override the market’s moral imperatives, such as mercy and compassion, natural to the human senses. Thus under such laissez-faire economy, trying to convert life and nature closer into more reliable technology make perfect sense in the capitalist’s logic. “Animals-as-technologies” – such as what the American beef industry have done to its cattle – eliminates the organic frailties and inefficiencies to peak efficiency in cow production. By using hormones, antibiotics, physical restraints, and other augmentation devices to enhance and at the same time limit the cattle’s emotional and spiritual existence into a painful, one-dimensional technology. This inhumane business practice can produce meat cheaper than allowing the animals to be at its natural instincts – a 3-dimensional existence.

This story would actually be different if such painful, one-dimensional existence produced nasty meat – but it doesn’t. Our technological rebellion and revolution seems to be winning, for now. A lifetime of individual, existential suffering for these animals or lack of meaningful existence does not translate itself into grosser meat, but disappears at its death. Thus the approach to producing meat makes no difference one way or another. (Sometimes such painful and immobile living conditions actually make the meat more tender to eat.)

So why should anyone care about the existential suffering that these animals. The life-long pain they have to endure cannot be measured or needed to be cared for and tended because the resulting meat produced from such cruel methods are considered innovative, favorable, efficient, and pays high dividend, measurable for the capitalist – further encouraging its cruel use. What monetary incentive do we have – that’s built into our unfettered capitalistic market — to provide these animals with a better quality-of-life, especially when that better, existentialist experience to the animals – which no doubly will cost the capitalist more – will terminate at death with no added benefits to the capitalist?

This repressive system of rebellion against nature and animals (and even humans in our unfettered, free job market or overly ambitious religious institutions) may be sustainable well into the future because the oppressed are powerless to fight back. (The only way to fight back is to die early, which prevents the capitalist from benefiting from its miserable, life-long existence).

So from an objective perspective, showing mercy towards cattle within the American Beef Industry seems impractical and overly expensive. But then again, as humans with moral values, should we attach any intrinsic values on the animal’s life – the quality, meaning, and the dignity of their life-long, living condition? Does diversity within the population of cattle still have values in today’s homogenous society that have apparently conquered and technologized over nature (Disease and Human Evolution article), which its morality does not add capital return in our unfettered, free market. Finally, is life just a commodity we use (and can abuse), or is there some higher, moral-order and code of conduct that we need to look towards and follow?

Author: Charles L. Wang

I lived a good life - a hard one, but I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I have made a difference in someone's life... Oh by the way, I'm from China: Downtown, China... Read my full bio.