Is the World Getting Better for Farmed Animals? A Case for Pessimism

Often humans perceive the world as a type of progression over time where we are elevating ourselves and the planet in an upwards and more moral direction.

This idea might be useful to believe in to remain optimistic and avoid unnecessary pessimism or nihilism, but to the degree that it becomes accepted that the progression of time or human society is inevitable might be a harmful meme if it distorts our perceptions of the future.

In terms of human social and economic progress, and despite the relative apparent rise of right-wing platforms in the past few years, it does appear that we are doing better in some ways.

There have been significant landmark wins in terms of civil rights, but the social and economic oppression of racial minorities, specifically African Americans in the United States, continues to this day.

Some of the world's poor are seeing their incomes and wellbeing rise, but many of the lowest income countries are caught in a trap where they are lucky to maintain even the smallest of growths in GDP (and even then, those growths are not distributed equally to all citizens).

What about farmed animals? Have they (as an aggregate group) seen any gains or sense of progress?

Unfortunately, per capita consumption of animal products in high income countries has been growing over the past century. Increases in agricultural efficiency have resulted in cheaper feed prices and more concentrated and specialized livestock operations have allowed animal producers to meet consumer demands and maintain low prices, often at the expense of animal welfare.

Governmental marketing boards and for-profit companies have used our appetite for meat and other animal products to make us want more and more, leveraging our own psychology and physiology against us.

As economies grow, likely so will demand for animal products. Even if farmed animal welfare improves, the increasing number of individuals being bred into the world might mean overall increased farmed animal suffering.

Given this, the current mainstream narrative of progress and moral uplifting should be questioned and perceived with great skepticism. This is because having a more realistic perception of the world and its future trajectory is necessary in forming accurate worldviews and informing our actions on more reliable models.

The urgency of the current level of suffering, and indeed the urgency of future levels of suffering (which are likely only to increase, not decrease) should prompt us to action. This is not to say our current actions are not necessarily satisfactory, but rather is that if we wish for an ideal world, we might need to challenge our optimism bias in order to provide more reliable scenarios of the future which can assist us in guiding our actions.