Late last month, hundreds of activists, academics, farmers, and business and nonprofit leaders met near Washington, DC. for the first-ever National Conference to End Factory Farming. There, they examined the personal and community health threats, environmental destruction, and animal suffering caused by industrial animal production. Presenters and attendees also ardently discussed solutions to these issues, building on momentum from around the country that has led more and more people to seek a healthier, more just and sustainable food production system.
The vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, and omnivores in attendance came bearing different philosophies but the same goal: to end factory farming. I am a long-time advocate of vegan living who is confronted by the fact that animals will likely be exploited for human food for some time to come. I realize that, as we work for a more complete solution to animal agriculture, it is also important to lessen animals’ suffering and to mitigate the environmental and human health costs associated with industrialized animal production.
Factory farming is entrenched and ubiquitous; most consumers unwittingly support it. Challenging agribusiness, whether through incremental reforms or through a more fundamental approach, shines a light on this system’s many abuses, making it more accountable before the public. Educating the public is also important. Our government should stop supporting and subsidizing the industrialized production and mass distribution of meat, milk and eggs, and consumers need to become more enlightened about these food choices. Citizens can engage more with the political process by reaching out to our elected representatives. When we do so in increasing numbers, it will become more difficult and expensive for the factory farming industry to continue behaving so irresponsibly. We also need to shift toward valuing healthier meals and kindhearted traditions, eating more plant foods and fewer animal foods. This personal shift alone could help eliminate as much as 70 to 80 percent of our health care costs, by some estimates, while preventing untold animal suffering and environmental harm. When consumers vote with our dollars (and sense), buying healthy, whole plant foods grown by responsible farmers, agribusiness will make adjustments to meet market demands.
Ending factory farming will continue to require that individuals and organizations with aligned interests seek common ground and work together in a collegial environment, as we began to do at last month’s conference. Whether among rural or urban, vegan or non-vegan, collaboration will bring contrasting opinions and perspectives to bear on the issues. Our differences are minor in comparison to our similarities, and should not distract us from achieving a common goal: To end factory farming.