ABSTRACT

Western attitudes toward animals have undergone a gradual evolution during recent centuries, driven by the scientific recognition that humans and many other species share a common anatomical template, a common phylogenetic ancestry, and certain similarities in their social and emotional lives. This evolving view has been accompanied by a heightened popular respect for animals, which has caused increasing opposition to the relatively utilitarian treatment of animals in modern farming. Western culture also tends to venerate the pastoralist image of humans caring diligently for animals, and North Americans tend to venerate the agrarian life-style of farm families living in harmony with domestic animals and the land. These positive images, which have traditionally lent legitimacy to animal agriculture, have been diminished by changes in production methods during recent decades. The resulting debate between critics and defenders of modern animal production has led to widespread confusion and concern about how animal agriculture affects animal welfare, human health, the environment, and world food security. To resolve this situation will require research to create an accurate understanding of the diverse effects of modern animal agriculture, together with measures to harmonize agricultural practices with changing public values.