Swine Flu: A Problem of Animal Treatment or Animal Use?

Dear Colleagues:

The animal welfare movement led by The Humane Society of the United States is claiming that the swine flu outbreak is the result of factory farming and that the solution is to provide more “humane” treatment for farm animals by supporting HSUS efforts like California’s Proposition 2.

This approach is problematic for several reasons.

First, it has been claimed that the current outbreak began in the Mexican state of Veracruz as the result of a Smithfield Farms plant that processes 800,000 hogs annually and has no sewage treatment facility. The hog wastes are apparently being dumped in local lagoons. Even if the confinement conditions in the plant itself were made more “humane,” that would not solve the sewage problem.

Second, whether the source of the current outbreak involves exposure to pig wastes and although there can be little doubt that the intensive confinement and resulting animal stress of modern factory farming is a factor that contributes generally to the development of things like swine flu, the reality is that pandemics have existed throughout recorded history—well before the advent of factory farming. We have had pandemics ever since we have been domesticating animals for our use and living in close proximity with them. We have had pandemics even when the conditions of animal exploitation were far more “humane” than they are now.

Even if the confinement of modern factory farming were the primary culprit here, the sorts of solutions that HSUS is proposing—measures like Proposition 2—will certainly not solve the problem. Putting aside that Proposition 2 does not even come into effect until 2015, its requirements, which have many loopholes, will do little, if anything, to provide greater protection for animal interests or to reduce animal stress in any significant way.

The swine flu outbreak provides a great opportunity to focus attention on a more relevant question: why, in 2009, are we continuing to eat any animal products? We have no moral justification for doing so. There is no necessity. Indeed, animal agriculture is not only killing nonhumans—it is killing us and destroying our planet.

The issue is not “humane” treatment; the issue is the immorality and irrationality of animal use.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione