What would Jesus think about factory farms?

March 24, 2021 | Opinion | Volume 25 Issue 7
Sandy and Jason Yuen | Special to Canadian Mennonite
Calves are taken away moments after birth and placed in veal crates. (Animal Equality photo by Jo-Anne McArthur)

In Genesis 9:3, God says to Noah: “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” But when God declared this, did he have factory farms in mind?

For those who might not have encountered this term, Wikipedia.org defines factory farming as a “type of intensive agriculture, specifically an approach to animal husbandry designed to maximize production while minimizing costs.”

On the outside, this approach to meat production aims to provide meat at an economical cost to consumers. On the inside, through revealing documentaries like Peaceable Kingdom and Forks Over Knives, and photos and videos from We Animals Media, we have learned that animals are subject to abuse, cruelty and exploitation, and are treated as a means to an end. Further, the environmental impacts of large-scale intensive meat production contribute to global warming, deforestation and water pollution. Finally, pandemics such as swine flu and COVID-19 continue to raise serious concerns about intensive animal agriculture as a breeding ground for diseases.

We are God’s people, called to care for creation (Genesis 2:15), yet the impacts of factory farming seem to directly contradict our faith. It is the main system of meat production that many of us may unknowingly support through our diets.

Troubled by this, we have been frequently turning to prayer to see what God has set on our hearts on this topic. As we reflect on what it means to be a Christian, we think about God’s love, grace, compassion, peace and mercy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

When we think about factory farms, and the way several egg-laying chickens are crammed into dirty, smelly, windowless prisons, and how they are unable to spread their wings and go outside, our heart grieves.

When we think about how calves are taken from dairy cows immediately after birth, and the anguished cries that can be heard for days or even weeks afterwards, we can’t imagine how it would feel to have our own children torn away from us moments after birth.

When we think about how mother pigs spend their entire lives on concrete floors in narrow, confining spaces and are continuously and forcibly impregnated for three or four years before slaughter, we cannot help but feel the injustice done to these sentient and intelligent beings.

God gave humans the mandate to care for animals, and we feel that, in many ways, factory farms have abused this power and embraced cruel practices that emphasize profits over love, compassion and creation care.

According to AnimalJustice.ca, in 2019, 834 million land animals were slaughtered to sustain the meat, dairy and egg industries in Canada. Where is the love and mercy here? Where is creation care in the midst of all of this?

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In Romans 14:3, Paul weighs in on the topic of different diets, and he advises that “the one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?”

His words humble us, and our intent here is not to judge other people or their diets. But, as Jesus calls us to speak up for injustice, we look to raise the issue of factory farming, an issue that we observe is not widely discussed in church circles.

From a personal perspective, our reflection and prayers over the years have motivated us to gradually remove meat, seafood, dairy and eggs from our diet. What started as a 30-day challenge has evolved into a whole-food, plant-based diet, full of experimentation and discovering fun new recipes with our kids.

We were thrilled when the Canadian government updated its food guidelines in 2019 and began promoting a healthier plant-based diet to all Canadians. Our hope for Earth Day is to encourage honest dialogue on where our food comes from and how our dietary choices can be an opportunity to promote greater love, compassion, peace and care for all of creation.

Resources

  • Watch the Peaceable Kingdom film online for free at bit.ly/3lfLfZh.
  • We Animals Media (weanimalsmedia.org) has a collection of 10,000-plus photographs and videos that document animals used for food, clothing and entertainment.
  • Watch Honouring God’s Creation, a Christian Vegetarian Association video, at bit.ly/3vkVeRH, or read its Joyful Compassionate Eating booklet at bit.ly/2Oq6uf3.
  • Christian Animal Rights Association (christiananimalrights.com/).
  • Visit All-Creatures.org.
  • Read the Factory Farm Collective’s article, “Does factory farming exist in Canada? Here’s what the data says,” at bit.ly/3cvV7di.

Sandy and Jason Yuen attend Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church and love cooking and tasting vegan meals from different cultures.

Calves are taken away moments after birth and placed in veal crates. (Animal Equality photo by Jo-Anne McArthur)

Egg-laying hens are confined in battery cages on a factory farm. (Animal Equality photo by Jo-Anne McArthur)

Line of pigs are confined and isolated by metal bars at a factory farm. (Essere Animali photo by Jo-Anne McArthur)

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Comments

Thank you very much for publishing this thoughtful article on factory farms and Christian veganism. These are crucial issues for Christians to reflect upon.

As a farmer and a Mennonite I find this article troubling. I have grown up in agriculture all of my life and have worked with large scale pig, chicken, and dairy operations. Most of my best friends are tied to animal agriculture in some form or another and are very proud to be so. In all of my years in agriculture I have yet to meet a farmer that is intentionally cruel to livestock in any shape way or form. We take pride in health and the well being of our animals while they are put in our care. Every step we take is for the benefit of the animals we care for.

The so called "factory farms" are not what people see in the hyped up videos. 98% of farms are still family owned and operated by hard working families that love what they do. So I ask before we lay judgement on farms and the families that operate them, have a conversation with them. We are passionate about what we do and how we do it. We take pride in feeding our community and world.

I would like to reply to the farmer that says most farmers love their animals. I would ask you to watch W5's Farm Secrets program which shows undercover video taken at a factory farm in Ontario. I would also like to say that as an animals rights activist who has been on these pig farms ( some of which have burned down with mother pigs still confined in the gestation crates and their piglets along with them, unable to get out), I have seen the horrific conditions that these poor animals have to endure. Not to mention the ride in trucks in freezing cold weather or temperatures so hot, they literally die of it, on the way to slaughter.

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