This is a great piece. I've often thought about how a person could possibly do that job.I know a factory farmer named Bill. His Texas ranch raises upwards of 4,000 head of cattle in a way that typifies industrial animal agriculture. Cows are numbered, not named. Animals don't eat food, they convert feed. The ultimate goal couldn't be more straightforward: raise cows as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible; transform them into well-marbled cuts of beef; and, throughout the process, minimize inputs while maximizing outputs.
What does Bill think about his vocation? He absolutely loves it. Factory farming has afforded him a life in the country, an opportunity to raise his family in a rural environment, and an income healthy enough to send his kids to prestigious colleges. When I recently challenged Bill on the ethics of industrial agriculture, he smiled and shook his head, insisting that the cows he fattened and slaughtered were of no more moral worth than the iron grates that enclosed them.
Bill is an emotionally aware person who gives the impression of a quiet academic. He has a warm smile, and is as likely to be found reading the New Yorker as Horse and Livestock. As he sees it, a factory farm simply makes good business sense, much as an assembly line does for fabricating cars. Consolidation is a logical response to economic incentives.
But I think Bill misses a critical point. True, even without subsidies, there might indeed be economic advantages to raising animals under intensive conditions. But we should never fail to overlook the psychological implications of something as emotionally charged as killing animals for food. And when it comes to this endeavor, scale and density of production accomplishes something essential for all factory farming: it severs the emotional bond between farmers and animals. In the bluntest terms, it allows my friend Bill to kill thousands of animals a year and remain a happy person.