Is Humane Slaughter Possible?
While many animal advocates can generally agree that minimizing the suffering of animals on factory farms is an important goal, there is always ongoing debate over the concept of humane slaughter. Is it possible to end the life of an animal in a way that can be described as “humane?” While there has been a lot of reform on end-of-life practices, like stunning, this paper takes a philosophical look at the possibility of humane slaughter.
The first question to think about is what does humane mean? Usually, it means minimizing the animals suffering before death or avoiding unnecessary suffering during their life. However, these philosophers argue that for a slaughter to be humane it must “not cause any (or minimal) harm to welfare, which includes harms of deprivation.” And while the life of an animal on a factory farm is no doubt filled with many different instances of suffering, is a truly humane end really possible?
This article argues that humane slaughter is worth questioning for a few reasons. First, the authors believe that death is harmful in itself. Often, the welfare of an animal is thought of as a moment-to-moment set of experiences, and when those experiences are bad, we can say that the animal has been harmed. However, death is also a harm due to the fact that it is depriving the animal of any possible future positive states. This is because if the animal had not been killed, we can expect that he or she would have lived out their life. More specifically, they would have had potentially many positive experiences that they no longer get to have. From this perspective, even painless animal slaughter could be thought of as inhumane, because from the standpoint of deprivation, the animal has in fact been harmed. The author also notes that, even though there may be some animal lives that are “not worth living” like those of factory farmed broiler chickens, we should still consider how death in itself is a harm to their welfare.
Another reason why we should question humane slaughter, the authors argue, is because of how slaughter fits into the idea of the “shape of life,” particularly when we consider slaughter methods that involve negative experiences (i.e., suffering). Shape of life is defined as the “distribution of various positive and negative experiences across the lifespan.” There is a sense that a life that starts decently and ends poorly (like by slaughter) is worse than a life that starts poorly and ends up decent. This can be true even if the ratio of positive-to-negative experiences is the same in both cases. Consider the example where someone experiences a painful medical procedure one day, and the next is enabled to go to their favorite restaurant. That seems better than enjoying their meal at the restaurant, only for it to get them sick the next day. And because modern factory farm slaughter methods necessarily contain suffering, the end of the animal’s life will always be bad.
It should be said that the authors of this piece still think that welfare reforms are important, and in that sense, the paper encourages animal advocates to keep doing what we can to minimize suffering on factory farms. However, we should also consider and critique claims of humaneness where they arise. From the standpoint of welfare science, the authors recommend making animals’ lives more positive towards their end, in a similar way that one might do for one’s companion animal.