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Industrial Farming: Immorality, Subsidized

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February 11, 2011 – Comments (8)

DavidKretzmann.com

As a lifelong vegetarian, no style of meat production is particularly appealing or justifiable to me. However, despite my herbivore bias, I still see an ethical dilemma present in current industrial meat facilities. Little respect is given to the conditions and treatment of the animals in industrial facilities. Animals rarely see the light of day for any substantial amount of time and they are raised on concrete floors; they are treated as mere products without regard for their status as living, breathing beings. The greatest crime, however, is that industrial facilities survive purely out of price floors, legal code, and other direct government subsidies that hinder competition from natural, local food systems.

A superior product in the marketplace should not require extra help from a government agency, whether it be in the form of a price guarantee for corn (the main substance fed to livestock in industrial facilities), legal code that mandates industrial farming (or heavily restricts other methods of non-industrial farming), or other government subsidies. The fact that industrial livestock facilities rely on government assistance for survival is a testament to their flawed, unnecessary, and undesirable business practices. (If they don’t require government assistance for survival, why continue providing subsidies and other competitive advantages to these corporate industrial livestock giants?) If people prefer to purchase industrial livestock meat over locally grown free range meat, there is no need for subsidies or other governmental involvement. Clearly, subsidies are needed only when a corporation or industry (such as industrial livestock producers) offers a lousy product that people won’t normally desire.

Government subsidies merely provide the illusion of cheap prices, which goes a long way in distorting the prices and actions of people in the marketplace. The fact that industrial meat is the cheapest does not mean it’s a better product or business model, particularly when you account for the government assistance needed to lower the price in the first place. Of course, it is us, the taxpayers, who are providing the subsidies, so the cost we pay for “cheap” food at the grocery store isn’t actually very cheap. We pay taxes to provide farm and grain subsidies, fund the bureaucracies who regulate and administer fines to farmers who don’t cooperate with the industrial system, among other taxpayer-funded programs.

"Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water- of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food." – Joel Salatin 

Clearly the industrial food system has government tilted in its favor; its products are cheap not because of their superior taste or flavor, but because they have managed to successfully crawl into bed with government to dismantle other legitimately competitive businesses. The philosophy of the industrial food system can be summed up in this statement: if people won’t buy your lousy, nauseating product, lobby government for subsidies and other protectionist interventions to dismantle competitors who actually offer a product desirable to the public.

In a true free market of limited or no government intervention and subsidies, a product only survives so long as it appeals to the demands of the general public. As soon as a company offers a product that people do not desire or demand, the company is hit with losses and will go bankrupt so long as it doesn’t change its practices. This occurs because other competitors can easily take the place of a lackluster company who fails to please its customers. Corporations in the industrial food system face no such market competition and customer input, because they are guaranteed government assistance regardless even if people resist their product. Industrial livestock corporations succeed financially based on how well they please government bureaucrats and follow government regulations, not how effectively they can please customers with a quality product. Are you beginning to see the apparent flaws in this industrial, bureaucratized food system of ours? Our current system has come at the demands of government bureaucrats and corporate lobbyists, rather than the demands of people in their local communities yearning for sustainable, clean, tasty food systems.

The inherent immorality in our current food system is that individuals cannot simply choose to opt out of the system and be done with it. Sure, if a few million of us chose to never again purchase industrial-raised meat, some corporations would face a loss of millions or billions of dollars. However, what would be the corporate reaction? Would they actually change their business practices to match the public’s desire for a local, sustainable, earth-friendly food system? Or would these Agribusinesses lobby government for an extra several billion dollars in subsidies and beneficial regulations to stay afloat? Unfortunately, history has shown the latter is the opted path, as it is with all politically-connected corporations and industries, because it demands little change or adaption on the part of the corporation. As a result, today we are stuck with an uncreative, unsustainable, and frankly undesirable industrial setup that very few people would actually choose over a more natural local food system.

In a true free market system with open competition and no government assistance to businesses, I believe industrial livestock and food systems would be run out of the market within a matter of one or two decades. They would be forced to reallocate their resources to fit the demands of a local food system, or suffer the consequences of consistent losses and, eventually, bankruptcy. The free market is a powerful moral force, because it cumulates the demands and desires of the people by giving each individual the power of choice. The fact that we evidently don’t have a free market within the industrial agriculture system proves that the system must indeed be immoral, unsustainable, or impractical to at least some degree. If it was a moral, worthwhile system, government subsidies would not be necessary to sustain the practices of industrial livestock and agriculture.

The industrial livestock system in place today is not justifiable for one basic reason: it requires government subsidies to stay afloat. I find the greatest moral dilemma with the fact that the system brings in billions of dollars of government support whether customers demand such a product or not. Government’s involvement and propping up of the system has essentially eliminated the power of individual choice, leaving the public susceptible to the whims and desires of corporate lobbyists, government bureaucrats, and our oh-so-wise politicians. The treatment of the animals, the conditions of the factories, the wages of the workers are all secondary. If people are forced to participate in and fund a system they find morally or ethically reprehensible with no option of withdrawal, it is absolutely not justifiable. It is tyrannical.

8 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On February 11, 2011 at 9:02 AM, metoo105 (28.77) wrote:

The susbsidies for foods, I think, perform an important function in the US economy. We spend so very little on food as a percentage of our per capita GDP. A large part is because the per capita GDP is higher than most other countries, but this is also because the government subsidies distort the actual amount spent. This, I think, ends up aiding in the idea that the US is a place where inflation does not occur. Or perhaps it helps to keep inflation from ever getting started at the initial phase from collective wage demands for increased salaries.

As to the immorality of meat-eating, you should look to St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the one who we have to thank for suggesting that we have a moral obligation to continuation of each species, but no such obligation to the individual animals. This belief is one that I think most still share, even if they haven't necessarily examined the reasons for doing so. 

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#2) On February 11, 2011 at 9:21 AM, Gemini846 (46.06) wrote:

None of this is documented or backed up by evidence or listed research. Corn subsidies actually raise the price not lower it.

All I read is, bias, bias, I campeign for PETA, bias, bias.

It really hurts your argument that these industries are not priofitable on thier own.

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#3) On February 11, 2011 at 11:59 AM, WendyBG (< 20) wrote:

One additional social cost is the health impact of eating beef raised on corn instead of grass. If you are interested in the subject of industrial farming, you will probably enjoy (and be shocked by) "The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan.

For the many who do eat beef, corn-fed beef is less healthful than grass-fed beef.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125722082

Government subsidies to food manufacturers is a complex subject. The subsidies increase production and decrease price.

Obviously, the companies benefit from government subsidies.

But the consumers who benefit most from cheaper food are the poor, who spend a greater proportion of their meager income on food than the rich do.

Withdrawing government subsidies to food producers would result in a smaller, possibly (but not necessarily) higher-quality crop, but definitely higher prices.

As a vegetarian, you might say that people shouldn't be eating meat anyway. But the fact is that many people LOVE to eat meat. You can't dictate their food choices, even if you think it is for their own good.

If your actions raise food prices, the poor will suffer. They will have to spend more of their money on food. In today's hard times, that may mean real hunger in many families, since the true (U-6) unemployment rate is over 16%.

Wendy

 

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#4) On February 11, 2011 at 4:53 PM, rfaramir (29.33) wrote:

Gemini846,

You're mostly off-base here.

True, pencil2 doesn't list specific examples of subsidies, price controls, regulations, and other interventions. I wish he had, just for completeness and verifiability. But do you really doubt their existence because of that?? There are hundreds to pick from! Still, I wish he had, for the sake of those of us who do not deal with, for example, the USDA on a daily basis.

"Corn subsidies actually raise the price not lower it."

No, a subsidy is a payment to a producer (farmer) to pruduce (grow/raise) something. This makes it profitable for more farmers to do so, increasing supply and decreasing consumer price, while raising taxes on all of us to support this intervention.

There is a way to intervene to help farmers which does increase price, that is a price floor (which pencil2 also mentions). This is a government guarantee that the producer selling price will not fall below a certain level, and commitment to be a buyer at that level if it does. This directly raises the price for the benefit of farmers and the detriment to consumers (and everyone else as tax-payers). Search for "government cheese" and note on the wikipedia entry: "The cheese was often from food surpluses stockpiled by the government as part of milk price supports"

Both subsidy and price floor are immoral interventions that are evidence that the industry would not be profitable if left alone (or at least not the marginal producers).

And I seriously doubt pencil2 campaigns for PETA. He is peacefully persuading here, not calling for government to outlaw our meat. That's the exact opposite of how PETA operates.

pencil2, 

While I agree with all 3 critics above on the value of eating meat (in moderation), I agree with you that the free market is the best way for our economy to function. It is more efficient, more moral, and more peaceful. Since in a free market there are no forced subsidies to things I am morally against, I can live peaceably with people like you with whom I disagree about what one should eat. We can have calm discussions on the topic, agree to disagree, and still part as friendly neighbors at the end of the day.

When you are forced to subsidize animal cruelty, or you impose veganism on me, we cannot be friends, but instead are enemies. We need to reduce the coercive influence of the state so there will not even be such a discord-producing mechanism.

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#5) On February 28, 2011 at 10:23 AM, TMFPencils (99.81) wrote:

Gemini846

Where is the research backing up your statements? You say that corn subsidies stabilize and lower prices and I am biased from PETA. As well thought out as those statements are, it'd be nice to see your research to come to those conclusions.

 Yes, I'm being sarcastic. You can find numerous examples on my website (DavidKretzmann.com) of how subsidies (starting in WWI) harmed small farmers and customers. True, this article of mine was more of an opinion piece, but there is plenty of documented evidence to come to this logical conclusion. 

Best,

David K 

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#6) On February 28, 2011 at 10:26 AM, TMFPencils (99.81) wrote:

rfaramir,

Don't get me wrong, I'm not demanding everyone become vegetarian. I'm vegetarian because I grew up that way, have moral reservations about slaughtering animals, and I can't stand the smell or taste of meat. That's my choice, and I'm not forcing anyone to live the same way I do. To each his own! 

The price of meat is inexpensive today largely due to government grain subsidies and regulatory code, however. The true costs of meat are not apparent in the shelf price of products.  

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#7) On February 28, 2011 at 10:36 AM, TMFPencils (99.81) wrote:

Gemini846

I apologize, I misunderstood your statement. How do corn subsidies raise the price of corn from what it otherwise would be free of subsidies? I'm curious to hear how this is so.  

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#8) On February 28, 2011 at 3:36 PM, rfaramir (29.33) wrote:

Pencil2,

I think we agree much more than we disagree. I am severely in favor of a free market in every category. As little government as we can manage, up to and including none (anarchy) eventually, at least as a trial. Not that I'm hopeful we will get there in my lifetime.

"I'm not demanding everyone become vegetarian." It's good to hear you say this, since some of your argument sounded so vehement that some might think that you would resort to government force to bring about what you want: "no style of meat production is... justifiable to me" "they are treated... without regard for their status as living, breathing beings" and "inherent immorality in our current food system".

Although, that last one I misread at first. I totally agree that the greatest immorality of it is that we cannot opt out of it. If it were based on liberty and free association the morality would take care of itself. Your other arguments (that I quote above) sound strikingly like the pro-life arguments against abortion, thus the sensitivity to strong emotion possibly leading to willingness to use government interference. As liberty-loving as I am, I believe it is sometimes justifiable to intervene on behalf of someone helpless to defend themselves. I find it hard to live peaceably with someone who would murder children within the womb, so I'm leery of whether you would live peaceably with someone who kills animals for food. I don't place animals on the same level as humans, but some do.

One hard part of liberty is learning to trust others with it. Another hard part is making sure everyone has it. I think children (including unborn) and the elderly should have it, as well as every race and nationality. I think animals are not included.

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