The Industrialisation of Animals: What Happened to Ethics?

Industrialisation Richard Twine in The Scavenger:

In 1989 Dutch cultural anthropologist and philosopher Barbara Noske in her book Humans and Other Animals coined the phrase the ‘animal industrial complex’.

This event should have kick started a whole array of social science analyses into the political economy of animal agri-business yet in the intervening period I would suggest a paucity of such work and indeed a lack of refinement over just what the concept of the ‘animal industrial complex’ actually means.

I think we can safely assume that Noske took inspiration from the concept of the ‘military industrial complex’ originally named by US President Eisenhower in his farewell address in January 1961 and used to characterise the network of relationships between governments, the various armed forces and the corporate military/security sector that supplies them. One wonders what he would make of the global scale of such relationships 50 years on.

Inherent to that concept and also applicable to Noske’s is a sense of a powerful network acting via a certain sense of concealment. Yet we should also account for the implicit public support of and complicity with such networks and the work that various ideologies perform in presenting a certain natural inevitability to their existence.

In this vein I would like to offer a definition of the ‘animal industrial complex’ as a partially opaque network of relations between governments, public and private science, and the corporate agricultural sector. Within the three nodes of the complex are multiple intersecting levels and it is sustained by an ideology that naturalises the human as a consumer of other animals. It encompasses an extraordinary wide range of practices, technologies, identities and markets.

A large proportion of global crop cultivation is implicated and we must, following Noske, also include the networks and practices of animal experimentation as a part of the complex – indeed, research links between the agricultural and the medical are one of its features. As Noske herself pointed out, “Disease-prone animals are a source of big profits for the pharmaceutical industries.”

The animal-industrial complex achieves the annual slaughter of in excess of 56 billion farmed animals (a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) figure), a figure that excludes marine animals, experimented animals and those farmed animals that don’t make it to the slaughterhouse count.

This figure deserves some pause for thought. It’s an annual figure and it’s on an upward trajectory.