“Concessions by farmers in [Ohio] to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs and veal calves are the latest sign that so-called factory farming — a staple of modern agriculture that is seen by critics as inhumane and a threat to the environment and health — is on the verge of significant change.” (source)
These “significant changes” will indeed be significant improvements in the miserable lives of farmed animals. However, they will not be nearly enough to justify farming and eating animals, even from the perspective of a conscientious carnivore.
Animals in factory farms cannot engage in their most basic instinctual behaviors, for example chickens in battery cages cannot perch or exercise and pigs in gestation crates cannot turn around much less roll in mud to cool off. Cage-less systems would allow some of the behaviors. But cage-less is not enough.
The Humane Myth explains:
Hens used for egg production come from hatcheries, where male chicks (none of which can lay eggs) are killed immediately after hatching. Each year, hundreds of millions of these vulnerable beings are suffocated or ground up alive to produce fertilizer or feed.
Chickens used to produce eggs, including eggs labeled “cage-free,” have their beaks forcibly mutilated to minimize the damage they cause each other when crowded together.
At all farms, large-scale and small-scale, laying hens are killed when their production declines, typically within two years, as feeding these worn-out individuals cuts directly into profits. Often the bodies of “spent” hens are so ravaged that no one will buy them, and they are ground into fertilizer or just sent to a landfill.
Changes are afoot, that’s for sure. And these changes are important short-term solutions to ease some animals’ suffering. But if we want a truly humane, peaceful, compassionate, respectful, and honorable agricultural system, we’ll need more. We’ll need to stop farming and eating animals.