Readers of the previous post might be interested in this talk from Mark Bittman: “What’s wrong with what we eat.” His story will be familiar to people who follow these issues, but it’s a good primer. Bittman makes a big deal out of the meat issue (rightly, IMO) and the impact that our levels of meat consumption have on our health and the health of the planet.
He argues that we should focus on eating less meat (he notes that Americans eat far more meat than even the agribusiness-friendly USDA recommends) and only secondarily worry about making the lives of farmed animals better. As he puts it, once we’re eating less meat we can worry about the lives that the remaining animals have. He’s right, I suspect, that eating less meat (not necessarily cutting it out altogether; Bittman himself isn’t a vegetarian) is probably the simplest thing that just about anyone can do to improve their diet (providing that they replace it with healthy, balanced alternatives and not junk food). And from a consumer’s perspective, that’s probably also the easiest thing you can do to register your disapproval of the industrial/factory farming system. That was my original reason for going veggie–to protest the way animals are raised.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that reducing meat consumption and improving animal welfare should be seen as competing goals. If, as seems likely, raising animals in a less dense and more human way would actually require us to reduce our meat consumption, they would seems to be complementary. Moreover, I’d argue we have a real moral obligation to see to it that the animals we raise for food are treated humanely.