image courtesy Andre Ford
Ex-RCA Architecture student Andre Ford has made a proposal for an intensified, industrialised chicken farming system. The animals would be packed together in maximum concentration throughout their adult life, with tubes used to provide food and remove excreta. In order to side-step the problem of welfare, the chickens will have had their cerebral cortex removed, rendering them unconscious. The proposal is made as a response to a perceived increase in demand for poultry over the next few decades. Impossibly impractical, at least in our present time, I would however like to look at the theoretical moral implications of this Centre for Unconscious Farming.
I contacted Andre Ford requesting an interview but after the first round of questions and answers I was unfortunately unable to make any more contact and so I have published the interview, rather one-sidedly, with my second questions and any further communication left unanswered.
Peter Walsh: What is your motivation for making the proposal for the Centre for Unconscious Farming?
Andre Ford: The project is a pragmatic response to the expected increase in the demand for poultry meat over the next fifty years.
PW: If it was just that, we wouldn’t have much to talk about, any more than if the project was a response to the demand for sugary foods, or medication. But in talking about the project you bring in ethics and suggest that it is in some way good for chickens, and by extension animals and us. This is why the project is interesting to me and why I have so many questions.
PW: You say we cannot provide adequate welfare of chickens and therefore welfare should be removed entirely by rendering them unconscious prior to farming. I don’t understand the reasoning here. If we are concerned about cruelty to animals wouldn’t it be more logical to go the other way and not eat them at all?
AF: If one was concerned about cruelty to animals, then it follows that one would choose a lifestyle, the consequences of which would not result in the maltreatment of animals.
The statement “we cannot provide adequate welfare” was referring to the intensive farming systems which constitute the majority of the broiler chicken industry. This sector of the industry is set to grow in coming years. The project looks at addressing the problems with this method of farming, namely the lack of welfare. This project proposes that one solution to the problem would be to remove welfare by rendering the animals unconscious.
PW: I’m still confused with your reasoning here. The last part of your paragraph seems to confirm the first and yet you choose a different outcome from your own selected one. If the problem with this method of farming is the lack of welfare then surely what you are saying is that animal suffering matters? Therefore one is concerned about cruelty to animals and so it therefore follows that one would choose a lifestyle that did not include that cruelty ie veganism.
PW: From what I can see on websites it looks as though you have used fake models rather than real chickens in your installation. Do you think a work (artwork, model etc) can be speciesist when an artist or designer uses an animal’s image in order to say something about their own work or ideas?
AF: One would hope that any artist or designer using an image of an animal would be happy to reciprocate if an animal wished to express any ideas of their own.
PW: Well, that’s why it’s speciesist, it’s a one-way street as far as making use of images is concerned. Humans make images of animals to express their ideas, usually to the detriment of animals. Animals don’t do this, although live animals may well express their desire not to be in the artwork. I see the machine as having a further reach in its affect on us than simply removing consciousness and therefore the necessity for welfare. When we present the image on the animal in this way – the fake chickens in the machine we are saying that it is ok to exercise control over non-human animals, that we have a moral ownership of animals. The effect is to make it more likely that we will see no problem with using animals in other areas of our life, such as wearing leather or wool or consuming dairy products which are all part of a cruel process. In this way I can see the model actually doing immediate harm to animals even before it ever comes into production.
PW: You say we should stop referring to the animals we eat as ‘animals’ but instead ‘crops’. Is there a similarity here within the history of human genocide where particular groups of people where seen as less than human or non-human?
AF: Animals bred for consumption are not afforded the same rights as the animals in our homes and the natural environment. Their short existence and the manner in which they are regarded, or disregarded, is more akin to that of a crop than an animal.
PW: Yes. Am I correct in saying that you see the elimination of suffering as an ethical move that makes eating these animals no longer objectionable? Does this reasoning also extend to humans? If we could remove suffering from human ‘crops’ would you condone the farming of humans for food or perhaps for spare body parts? What about using one particular race? Do you see a morally significant distinction between humans and non-humans?
PW: When meat eaters object to your work you refer them to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, What do you say if a vegan objects to your work?
AF: Vegans, as an empathetic people could ask themselves the same question in light of the fact the world demand for meat is increasing year on year. How would you like to be farmed?
PW: Why is it ‘..great if it causes someone to reflect on his or her dietary habits’? Do you think we shouldn’t be eating animals?
AF: I do not think that we need to eat meat on a nutritional level and there many environmental reasons why we should not. However, on a cultural level it appears to be engrained.
PW: I think it is quite short sighted to say that a particular eating trait is ingrained. Our present culture is a tiny snapshot of our evolutionary timescale. Surely if we talk about ethics we should seek real change? Even in recent history groups of men have thought that our desire for slavery was ingrained, or the lesser status of women, or religion.
PW: Why would you ‘never become a vegan’?
AF: Dairy products and eggs can be produced using methods which agree with the animals ‘natural’ behaviours.
PW: This is certainly not the case at the moment, and I don’t see how it ever could be. The dairy industry is incredibly cruel. Do you have a feasible example to give for the dairy products and eggs you talk of?
PW: Prior to ending up in the machine, where does fertilisation and the early growth of chicks take place?
AF: There would be on site chick farms and hatcheries.
PW: How would this work with conscious chicks being able to live a natural life?
This proposal claims to remove suffering from factory farming but I could find no details about how the chicks, being born into on-site hatcheries and shortly to be lobotomised, would be free from suffering. To this extent, the Centre for Unconscious Farming (CUF) should more properly be viewed as a functionally welfarist proposal. By this I am certainly not suggesting that the welfare of these sentient animals is in any way taken into account but that in common with all other animal welfare projects, animals suffer and people are encouraged to feel better about eating them. Gary L Francione explains that animal welfare has a negative effect, or no effect at all, on the three different types of meat eater.
The first group do not care about animals and are never going to become vegans. As the CUF chicken meat will be more expensive than the current, most cruel battery chicken, they will not choose it. The second group are concerned about animals and would go vegan immediately if a good argument was presented to them. The effect of CUF will be to persuade them that they do not have to be vegan, thinking instead that they are acting responsibly by eating this food. The third group is concerned about animal ethics but will not go vegan immediately no matter what argument you present to them. This group could have been encouraged to choose vegan meals more regularly but again are unlikely to do so if they believe they are making an ethical choice by eating welfarist meat.
It’s important to realize that even if no suffering whatsoever took place the CUF would still be speciesist and objectionable on moral grounds. The speciesist animal image of the proposed machine has a negative effect on all other non-human animals because it promotes the concept that non-human animals are the property of humans. Keri Cronin of Our Hen House explains that the way we depict animals has a direct effect on how we treat animals. For example, after the classic 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Orangey the cat, pet stores and animal adoption centers were reportedly inundated with people wanting to own an orange cat. In another example, early 20th century souvenir postcards in American National Parks showed people feeding candy bars to bear cubs. This dangerous action – for both bears and humans – was difficult to stop so long as the postcards remained popular.