Ethical Birthing for Calves & the Micromanagement of Farming

If you thought the only ethical issue about the treatment of calves was the way veal calves are raised, think again.

Here’s the story, from TVNZ: Calf-killing practice sparks mixed debate.

A Close Up poll of almost 10,000 people tonight revealed many people take farming practices and ethics into account when making shopping decisions.

The question was asked of viewers after ONE News revealed on Monday, that some farmers are prematurely birthing their calves so cows produce milk earlier. Around 200,000 calves are induced each year….

I don’t have anything to say on the practice of inducing. But I’m interested in the issue of consumers & regulators micromanaging farm practices. And in principle I’m neither for nor against that, but I do wonder about its limits, and this story provides a good example. The modern dairy industry (by which I mean not just the modern, tech-heavy dairy industry, but the dairy industry of say the last 50 years) consists of a complex set of interwoven practices. Some of them are arguably cruel. Some of them just look odd from the outside. Some of the practices that look odd from the outside are likely “mere” traditions that could or ought to change, and others are essential but hard to explain.

What I’m curious about is just how many practices there are (like inducing labour in dairy cows) about which consumers (more-or-less informed) would have an opinion, if asked. And how feasible is it for consumer opinion to shape farm practices? It seems to me that consumer opinion (or preferences or desires) can plausibly shape practices when what consumers want are what we might think of as entire ways of farming: e.g., if some consumers want organic produce, then farmers who want to cater to that market can do organic farming, because organic farming (at least as traditionally understood) is kind of a set of practices.

But is there a plausible mechanism by which consumers can a) learn about, and b) express a preference about, each of the hundreds (thousands?) of individual practices that make up modern farming, and about which they might have ethical or aesthetic preferences?

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in agriculture, animal welfare, consumerism, ethics, farmers, values. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ethical Birthing for Calves & the Micromanagement of Farming

  1. @J_C_Mtz says:

    In each country there is a specific regulation for this type of product, it specifies that features must satisfy (physical, chemical, microbiological) water to be sold in bottles. The consumer is obligated to know what they drink or eat, we must stay informed. Here’s an example. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm046894.htm

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