A question has often been posed, would factory-farming be ethical if the animals were happy? I find this question interesting because I believe it challenges the utilitarian idea that an action that promotes the greatest happiness or pleasure is synonymous with an action that’s ethical. Although, it does so under very abstract circumstances.
The question is based on a hypothetical instance which begins with an assumption that an animal has the capacity to be happy, but then yet assumes confinement, mistreatment and de-animalisation, which is an inherent part of factory-farming, somehow fulfils this capacity for happiness.
Even if we entertained the idea that living in depraved and abhorrently sub-standard welfare conditions somehow would make an animal happy. We still have to consider objective standards for what we deem as humane living conditions that promote health and well-being before we can consider it ethical. Even then, slaughter would certainly be no more ethical, unless we now further abstractly hypothesise by proposing the animal wishes to die too.
The fact is, we know animals aren’t happy in confined animal feeding operations. So even if the answer was, hypothetically speaking, factory-farming is ethical if the animal is happy whilst captivated under such standards, the logic must also follow that factory-farming is therefore unethical if an animal is unhappy whilst captivated under such standards. If one can concede to the fact that factory farming, in the reality in which it currently exists, results in greater suffering and pain than it does promote happiness and well-being in animals. Then one can admit to factory-farming, as it currently stands, as being unethical.