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Staying Good While Playing God – The Ethics of Breeding Farm Animals

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Modern genetics has given us some very efficient tools with which to alter the characteristics of animals. To date, farm animal breeders have mainly used these tools to increase productivity. Thus, each new generation of farm animals matures faster, yields more milk, or produces more meat or eggs, than the previous one. Despite these apparent benefits, modern farm animal breeding has had severe negative consequences, including effects on the quality of the animals' lives and biodiversity. The aim of this paper is to discuss the goals and consequences of farm animal breeding within an ethical context. First, a description of what has happened to broilers and dairy cattle as breeders have pursued the goal of ever more efficient production is given. Second, the ethical values that ought to underlie future breeding schemes are discussed. It is suggested that there are in fact two very different ethical approaches: the 'quality of life-based, approach and the 'preservationist' approach. A view combining elements from both approaches is advanced. Finally, an example is given of how it is possible, in practice, to pursue an ethically defensible breeding goal without compromising production efficiency.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-11-01

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