The Ethics of Touch and the Importance of Nonhuman Relationships in Animal Agriculture

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 34 (2):1-20 (2021)
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Abstract

Animal agriculture predominantly involves farming social animals. At the same time, the nature of agriculture requires severely disrupting, eliminating, and controlling the relationships that matter to those animals, resulting in harm and unhappiness for them. These disruptions harm animals, both physically and psychologically. Stressed animals are also bad for farmers because stressed animals are less safe to handle, produce less, get sick more, and produce poorer quality meat. As a result, considerable efforts have gone into developing stress-reduction methods. Many of these attempt to replicate behaviours or physiological responses that develop or constitute bonding between animals. In other words, humans try to mitigate or ameliorate the damage done by preventing and undermining intraspecies relationships. In doing so, the wrong of relational harms is compounded by an instrumentalisation of trust and care. The techniques used are emblematic of the welfarist approach to animal ethics. Using the example of gentle touching in the farming of cows for beef and dairy, the paper highlights two types of wrong. First, a wrong done in the form of relational harms, and second, a wrong done by instrumentalising relationships of care and trust. Relational harms are done to nonhuman animals, whilst instrumentalisation of care and trust indicates an insensitivity to morally salient features of the situation and a potential character flaw in the agents that carry it out.

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Steve Cooke
University of Leicester

Citations of this work

Caring animals and care ethics.Birte Wrage - 2022 - Biology and Philosophy 37.
Assessing measures of animal welfare.Heather Browning - 2022 - Biology and Philosophy 37 (4):1-24.

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References found in this work

Trust and antitrust.Annette Baier - 1986 - Ethics 96 (2):231-260.
Animals and why they matter.Mary Midgley - 1983 - Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Four essays on liberty.Isaiah Berlin - 1969 - Oxford University Press.
All Animals Are Equal.Peter Singer - 1989 - In Tom Regan & Peter Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations. Oxford University Press. pp. 215--226.

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