Stephanie is currently a student in Animals and the Law at the University of Auckland, Faculty of Law, and a guest contributor to the Solution. Students from this class will be contributing blogs to the Solution periodically over
the next month.
There is a stereotype of the vegetarian-going-vegan animal rights enthusiast of being a left wing voter. Even my closest right-wing friends and family members joke about me being a ‘socialist’. I cannot convince them that I actually agree with them politically. A barbeque interrogation about why I am not tucking into a juicy steak seems to inevitably lead to questions concerning my political views, much to my friends’ bewilderment when they hear the unexpected: I’m right-wing, but don’t eat meat.
Yes. I fall on the right of the political spectrum, and in general, I believe in the free market. It promotes efficiency, hard work, innovation, and self-reliance. Excellent.But, and this is a big but, I know that there are exceptions. And my recognition of them does not change my political alignment. Certain markets cannot produce desirable balances of competing interests when only subject to market forces. Market forces are based on reaching economic allocative efficiency.
For some industries, this is fine. Great, even. The vegetable market is an example. Demand equals supply thanks to handy price fluctuations.
Others however, are not suited to this model. A problem arises when one competing interest is not a financial interest because it is not accounted for in the supply and demand model. I take as an example the United States healthcare model. The financial incentives are all wrong. Profitability encourages health insurance companies to actively seek out reasons to refuse to pay out when one of their insured clients become sick. The results of this are devastating. It means that Americans receive less healthcare and have to suffer the consequences. But surely healthcare is for more important than money, so from a societal point of view, the market has failed.
The same goes for animal farming. The result of animals’ legal status as property and being used in agriculture to turn a profit means that the financial incentives clash with the animals’ interests. The financial incentive is to cram animals into a tight space, and treat them as badly as the given farmer’s conscience will allow, so long as the animals are healthy enough for productive purposes. The mere existence of factory farms, not to mention the extent of them, indicates that a farmer’s personal concern to treat one’s animals well is nowhere near regulation enough. Arguments that the property status of animals provides an incentive for each animal owner to keep their animals in good condition are fundamentally flawed in relation to farm animals. The incentive is to exploit the animals in order maximise profits. Agricultural efficiency and the welfare of animals are simply not compatible.
Of course some farms are better than others and not all farmers treat their animals abhorrently, according to some welfare standards. The animal rights standard does not accept any level of farming as it operates today, but an intermediate step is needed before this goal can be reached. An appropriate intermediate step can be to improve farm animal welfare. Although the welfare view and the animal rights view have their contradictions, including, importantly, whether the current property status of animals can continue to be endorsed, both views are a step in the same ultimate direction. They share the common goal of improving the lives of animals.
The farming industry thus needs government intervention in order to reach the most desirable outcome from a societal point of view. As a starting point, stricter regulations are needed to protect animals from exploitation. This may include more detailed regulations regarding housing, feeding and use of animals in production. The more extreme view, and my ultimate hope, is that the animal market will become state owned and controlled. This endorsement of market regulation does not amount to a shift on the political spectrum, but rather a shift on the moral spectrum.
It is simply a recognition that as a society, we are becoming more and more concerned about animal welfare. We are rethinking our use of animals and our moral standpoints on these issues are changing. Left, and right wing.