Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Peter Singer on the hidden costs of factory farmed animals

In his first article for his new syndicated column The Ethics of Life, Peter Singer makes an interesting case for improving the living conditions of factory farm livestock which, despite Singer being well known as a defender of animal rights, is not grounded in an appeal for the ethical treatment of animals, but instead is based in economics and health concerns.

Singer writes that the cramped living conditions of chickens who are fed antibiotics to keep them growing in such a squalid environment is a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant disease and potentially deadly viruses such as the avian bird flu, and that government spending for preparations against a possible epidemic is "a kind of subsidy to the poultry industry."

And ultimately, these subsidies shift the burden of paying the cost of bringing their product to market onto the taxpayer.

Like most subsidies, it is bad economics. Factory farming spread because it seemed to be cheaper than more traditional methods. In fact, it was cheaper only because it passed some of its costs on to others – for example, to people who lived downstream or downwind from the factory farms, and could no longer enjoy clean water and air.

Now we see that these were only a small part of the total costs. Factory farming is passing far bigger costs – and risks – on to all of us. In economic terms, these costs should be “internalized” by the factory farmers rather than being shifted onto the rest of us.

That won’t be easy to do, but we could make a start by imposing a tax on factory-farm products until enough revenue is raised to pay for the precautions that governments now have to take against avian influenza. Then we might finally see that chicken from the factory farm really isn’t so cheap after all.

1 comment:

John Lombard said...

"the chicken's tears will poison a mighty river"