Yesterday, I made a conviction ahead of myself by saying that I don't think I'd go off meat-eating in spite of the knowledge of how possibly badly animals are treated (we recently watched a video about poor animal treatment prior to the slaughterhouse in sociology of food class) because I would readily accept inhumane treatment on me if that was my fate too. That is, if I was in the hands of some greater being who decided to skin me, remove my limbs or skewer me, while I wouldn't appreciate it and would probably be in an awesome deal of pain, I would think of it as a fact of life and would probably look at it with acceptance of my place in a certain order of things.
Although I said it ahead of myself, I can understand why I instinctly took that position and I think I'll be holding myself to it.
If I were born in the 14th or 15th century, the likelihood of me being a slave can be as high as 90%, because the only privileged position that ensures that I'll be safe is to be in the aristocracy, which is a minority elite and my odds of being born into it will be pathetically low. I might be born into a middle class family that just minds its own business from day to day but there's always the risk of war and invasion and being captured. Who am I then to believe that laws in place to safeguard my personal rights of living in humane conditions are a given?
When Pizarro and his Spanish conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire from the hands of King Atahuallpa, many Inca soldiers were killed or dismembered in battle and the rest were enslaved. And that must've been just that for existence to them, as sucky as it seems. The modern world is so enlightened now that human rights have become a worthwhile cause to pursue (and rightly so), but if I were hacked and left to bleed to death gruesomely in war tomorrow just as many of the Inca soldiers did yesterday, it wouldn't have been any different in the big scheme of Nature whether now or then.
In other words, I wouldn't ask for sympathy if I were in the hypothetical scenario of being captured by superior aliens, just to stretch the example. It thus makes it still acceptable for me to eat meat in the face of the seemingly inhumane treatment animals have gone through as one DVD has shown me. This effectively rules out the "what if it was done to you" argument that some animal lovers like to use.
The food production process is a profit-driven one. This can only mean that, by virtue of economics and the pursuit of more profits and efficiency, the process will be increasingly mechanised so that costs are lowered and returns are increased.
The drive for profit is reasonable if the end goal is to capture market share by creating value. In this sense then, profit is earned when a producer comes up with a better product such that demand for his product rises. Profit is the honest incentive in this case to innovate and provide better for society. The producer has raised the level of society by introducing superior products, such as healthier and better quality food into the market.
However, my gripe with this drive for profits occurs when the end goal isn't to create value, but for the sole purpose of maximising returns no matter what the means are. In order to expand the pie and capture more markets, producers have done all kinds of things to squeeze as much out of consumers as possible, such as by increasing the addictiveness of their food products (through using indiscriminate amounts of salt and sugar). In the process of only looking at the money, animals are treated like parts of a robotic processing chain in order to make production faster and produce greater portions (there you get the artificially created fat chickens and pigs who can't even support their own weight).
It takes a really emotionally detached person to look at his production process dispassionately and not consider the lives and the environment he is affecting in the pursuit of profit. And that is how the whole corporate structure is geared if one wishes to be exploitative - create different departments, specialise and deskill workers, and scientifically mechanise the process like Frederick Taylor proposed. Since no one is fully responsible for the entire process of inhumane animal culling, each department's worker will just go ahead with his own job of either herding, skinning or gutting the animals, with only his own paycheck in mind.
The rational argument to why companies shouldn't engage in socially irresponsible business is because of some fantastical long-term karma that will come back to haunt them, termed as long-term losses. The utilitarian argument goes: While one gets short-run profits by being socially irresponsible (such as saving on sewage disposal costs while polluting the river), the long term loss of being caught and sued is much worse and should be a disincentive (making it a moral imperative to focus on long term gains). While some companies like Enron did fall into the consequentialist trap and were then deemed as unethical companies, we can only really know if they are behaving ethically or not post-hoc.
Rather than consider the long-term harm, my stand on this is deontological - expand the pie and capture markets through the creation of value, not via the exploitation of the human mind through sly marketing, or the exploitation of resources through irresponsible management and production.
On a side note, my support for animal rights is somewhat ambivalent - I support it not in the sense that I believe animals have rights, but that I believe it is just evil to want to harm any living being unnecessarily.
I do realise that this seems to indicate a degree of moral flexibility. As long as I am not harming animals unnecessarily, I can overlook the evil procedures of other people culling animals in order to get me my meat, as all I do is buy my meat either off the shelf or at the hawker centre. If the food producer wasn't unethical in the way he produced the meat, I wouldn't have to grapple with the responsibility of considering the treatment of animals. Once again, my ideas rest on the somewhat utopian ideal that everyone has a part to play in ensuring the world is a better place.