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Animal experimentation vs factory farming

Recent figures showing a large increase in the number of animal experiments in the UK have spurred strong complaints from animal rights campaigners (link). Nearly 3.7 million experiments were performed on animals last year, an increase of 14% over last year and the largest yearly increase since the 1980s. 

There has been a longstanding debate in the UK about whether medical experiments upon animals can be ethically justified and this debate shows no signs of ending soon. However, even setting aside this question, there is a strong argument that animal rights campaigners would better meet their own objectives by devoting most of their energy to combatting factory farming. 

Last year, 3.6 million animals were used in medical research in the UK, whereas more than 200 million animals were raised for the meat trade, many of which were in factory farms. Thus, animals in research are only a tiny fraction of animals raised for human use: for every research animal, there are 50 animals in the meat industry. Moreover, the case against factory farming is much stronger than the case against animals in research. People with currently incurable illnesses stand to benefit a great deal from animal research — it could ease their considerable suffering and remove their disabilities. In addition, the number of such people who will benefit from animal research is likely to be larger than the number of animals used in the research. In contrast, each animal raised in the meat industry contributes only a tiny amount to the welfare of those who eat it. Finally, from my what I have been able to determine, animals in the meat industry are likely to suffer more in their lives than animals used in research.

Thus, compared to the research industry, the meat industry thus involves more than 50 times as many animals, whose presence contributes much less to human welfare, and who arguably suffer more as well. Those concerned with animal suffering would do much better to direct their campaigning towards reforming the meat industry than towards the comparatively tiny, socially useful, and tightly regulated field of animal research.
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3 Comment on this post

  1. John,

    The problem is that opponents of these practices only have finite resources, in terms of labour, time, money, and attention of the public. They need to use these in the way that best achieves their goals of reducing animal suffering, and since reform for the meat industry would help at least 50 times as many animals, there is a strong argument that it should receive the lion’s share of these resources.

  2. I think the concept of animals as “rights bearers” is dubious. To utilitarians, rights are of minor importance, and only come up when the rule utilitarian wants to set up a rule of conduct. On the other hand, if we want to talk about large-scale activities such as animal experimentation or factory farming of animals, we are probably thinking about some regulation or prohibition of such activities. At the very least, we want to know whether engaging in such activities is the right thing to do (which you can talk about without once mentioning rights or duties). One way to determine the right thing to do is to think about the usual context for that consideration — action by people affecting people.

    Which has the greater benefit to man, and the least cost to man. Factory farming may increase the production of meat and thereby provide more meat at lower cost, but this is controversial as a benefit as eating a great deal of meat has come under attack as having unfortunate health effects. Factory farming also involves the use of drugs and hormones which has poor effects on the human population. In the case of the use of animals for experimentation, probably for the purpose of drug research or behavioral research, for for the testing of weapons, the benefits to humans are obviously great. The only cost is the usual cost of cruelty to animals, which is teaching insensitivity to suffering which may carry over to encounters with humans.

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