Death rates for female pigs in the US are going up rapidly, causing panic in the farming industry. The same has been true of chickens and turkeys for the past two decades. Probably other animals as well, especially if bred in factory farming systems. Breeding livestock in their billions and trillions (over a trillion chickens are killed globally every year) results inevitably in declining genetic diversity. Owners of pedigree cats and dogs should already know how their pets are significantly weaker genetically than their mongrel kin, more prone to inherited illness and deformities, with less robust immune systems. Now imagine the numbers of those cats and dogs ramped up, how much more obvious the problems would become, how much quicker breeding of them would hit a wall.
The modern hybrid chicken, usually brown and innocuous-looking, has been in genetic crisis almost as long as it has actually existed, which has been since the 1970s (although poultry production began its industrialisation in the 1950s). Inbreeding of livestock is a common practice, not only within factory farming, that makes the problems even worse. It is a fact – not a supposition – that the time will come when death rates among livestock will not only soar but, if solutions are not found (and they are unlikely to be), those death rates – miscarriages, stillborns, severe disabilities, weak youngsters not reaching killing age, let alone adulthood, which few meat animals are allowed to get to – will approach 100 per cent. We just don’t know when this will start to happen. Obviously, the US is going to be the first country to reach the end of the road for mass animal production for meat, given the amount of meat Americans produce and consume. To make survival of pigs, goats, chickens et all even less likely in the long run, traditional breeds are often endangered because too few breed them any more and, of those who do, many deploy inbreeding to ensure certain physical characteristics are maintained.
Chickens bred in factory farming environments for fast food outlets and supermarkets often have deformities, weak bones and poor immunity, making disease outbreaks more likely. Turkeys can simply drop dead at any point in their lives, and often do. People are employed to look for, and cut out, cancers in poultry on the production line. Here’s hoping they never miss a tumour if you eat KFC, eh? I can’t speak to the situation with pigs and other animals from personal experience, but I would think it’s fair to surmise their cancer and deformity rates are likely to be soaring just the same.
This is nature in protest, much like climate change. We put our faith in science and technology to solve the problems we have created through science and technology. Factory farming is unsustainable. Ethics aside, it breeds disease and weakness. To some extent, science and technology can mitigate effects and find alternatives, like fake meat grown in laboratories, but for every proposal there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of people who will say they do not believe, they will not change their ways and they cling to the idea that what is available now, what lives now, what stabilities remain in this world, will not change, will not wither away, will not collapse. Those who point out the obvious are labelled catastrophists.
The idea that we can all switch to veganism overnight and solve the problems in an instant with factory farming going out of business is, at best, an admirable hope but it is not one that is ever going to happen. However, when people choose to eat less meat – and fish, which have their own set of man-made extinction-level problems – and shun factory-farmed meat in favour of organic and free-range, they at least reduce demand, and it is demand that lies behind these problems, along with wilful blindness. Can they make a difference? Unlikely. As a vegan myself, I don’t for one second believe any animal still walks this earth that would otherwise have been slaughtered. I only know that I wanted to opt out of the madness. I didn’t want to close my eyes to reality, nor ignore the suffering and torment of animals.
I understand that bacon sizzling in a frying pan seems a long, long way away from factory farming, the abattoirs and breeding pens. It’s easy to put blinkers on and pretend what you eat isn’t part of the problem, isn’t going to result in an uninhabitable world, isn’t going to bring an overpopulated, overburdened planet to a messy, chaotic, brutal end. It’s “only a bacon butty”. I also understand the cry of, “Well, if we’re all fucked, what’s the point of trying?” – but, while the destination is unavoidable, how we choose to live while we journey there can, at least, involve a cleaner conscience than it might otherwise, as well as peace of mind and a knowledge that, well, we weren’t all lifelong parties to the slaughter and destruction. This isn’t said from a holier-than-thou perspective; as I have already said, repeatedly, I understand people make different choices, and why.
But that’s the key thing here – choices. We are none of us forced to eat meat, or drop litter, or support animal cruelty and environmental degradation with our purchases. We choose. I make my choices freely, and everyone should have the same right. Just don’t pretend you have no choice, or that you need your bacon, your cheese, your KFC. You do have a choice, you don’t need your bacon, cheese and KFC. That bullshit might convince yourself but it doesn’t convince me. Do I think you’re a horrible person if you eat meat and fish? No. Absolutely not. Do I think you’ve made a choice that has terrible consequences for us all further down the line? Yes. Absolutely, I do. But you’re not alone in that, and no one person can ever be blamed for what is happening right now, and what is to come.
I can only hope more of us become convinced, by opening ourselves up to exploring the realities and the issues, of the need to depart from the mainstream orthodoxy and try doing things differently. I’m almost-but-not-quite entirely pessimistic; a stubborn, small part of me inside persists in hoping that it might not be too late for us and our world, that we might yet turn things around. Humans are nothing if not inventive under pressure.
So yes, I hold onto a tiny crumb of hope. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written this article.
Andrew’s latest book, myfibromyalgia: one man’s experience of living with chronic illness, is out now in all Amazon store territories the world over. The ebook is £5.99 and the paperback £8.99. UK Amazon link.