02 December 2004

From the Mailbag


You are indeed correct [see here] that much of what goes into dog food is by-product produced by agriculture oriented toward human consumption.

However, the use of by-products for dog food is economically significant. Because the margins per animal in industrialized agriculture are so small, the removal of the market for dog food might push farm budgets into unprofitability.

As an example, a large proportion of meat produced for non-human consumption comes from culled dairy cows—four year old steak is unpalatably tough. These cows are heavily discounted in the marketplace on a per-pound basis, but their "death value" is critical in dairy budgets.

If you go to this site and examine the variable costs and income on pages five and six, you will see that each culled cow is assumed to be worth $630, or approximately $189 per cow in the dairy when averaged over the years of her productive life. When income over variable costs is only $595 per cow in the dairy, removing knacker meat from the equation will reduce dairy profitability by almost a third.

When one considers the massive capital expenditures necessary to build an intensive dairy operation—millions of dollars—this one third change might make the return on investment figures very unattractive.

I would argue that the suffering experienced by dairy cows in confinement operations is even greater than the suffering of beef animals in a feedlot—the stomach pain from acidosis is not as high, but the low-level discomfort and sensory deprivation continues for an average of four and a half years—and the end result of death will be the same.

Margins on feedlot beef are also razor-thin. Take a look here.

The income over expenses on a per-head basis is only a shade over $11. If removing the by-product market drops the price paid for cattle by only a few cents per pound, feedlots would go bankrupt.

It seems that you dearly want your two hounds to be happy. But I don't think you can justify feeding them meat on the basis that the harm caused by feeding meat to dogs is insignificant.

Additionally, when you quote Samuel Scheffler, he argues that harm is permissible for a "badly needed benefit." Can a preference for meat be termed a "need?" If so, why wouldn't this argument allow humans who prefer tasty steaks to eat animals as well?

Mark Tueting (a.k.a. Smallholder)

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