Who is protecting animals in the long-term future?

Dear Amazing EA Forum Users,

Thank you for dedicating yourselves to doing good.

Today I read an article in Watt Poultry that stoked an old fear. It’s a fear that comes up for me—and I think for some other animal-focused EAs—when thinking about the longterm future. My fear is: Will the longterm future mean expanded factory farming, which goes on forever? (And therefore produces exponentially more suffering than factory farming currently produces?) Who is looking out for animals in the longterm future?

The article was titled Chickens grown on Mars?. It says:

With the research done by the NC State Nuggets on Mars program, we could one day be growing chickens on Mars . . . .

[The teachers] will learn about . . . the unique challenges of raising chickens on Mars. . . .

At the end of the program, the participants will be tasked with putting together a unit for their class focused on developing ideas on ways to raise chickens on mars.

Emma, Cottrell, Chickens grown on Mars?, Watt Poultry (Mar. 11, 2022), https://​​www.wattagnet.com/​​articles/​​44685-chickens-grown-on-mars.

The Nuggets on Mars program is apparently being paid for by the U.S. federal government’s United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). And it sounds like the program has support from an ag industry group called the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.

From this article, it seems that some in the U.S. agriculture industry and the U.S. government hope that a future of humans on other planets will include factory farming on other planets!

That’s exactly my fear.

The plans described in this article differ from what I’ve often heard longtermist EAs say, when I bring up my recurring fear about animal cruelty in the longterm future. I generally hear longtermist EAs reassure me that, (1) ‘If we expand to living on other planets, we won’t bring factory farming with us, because it would be too cumbersome to raise animals in space,’ (2) ‘In the far longterm future, all minds will be digital, so we will no longer have to worry about animal cruelty,’ and (3) ‘Over time, people will become more empathetic, so future humanity will treat animals better.’

I hope that the longtermist EAs are right, and that the meat industry is wrong. But, in my experience, the meat industry is pretty good at getting things done, even if those things seem wasteful or cumbersome. (For example, farming animals for food, even on Earth, is already far less efficient than farming plants. And yet the number of animals farmed expands every year.) And the meat industry and the U.S. government seem to WANT the future to involve high-tech ways to factory farm even more animals. So that scares me.

I acknowledge that this news article is focused on a far shorter term future than longtermists think about. The article seems to hint that people could start living on Mars within the lifetime of children who are alive today. But to someone, like me, who is uneducated on such topics, the practice of factory farming in space seems like a practice that, once started, could simply continue and expand. Think, for example, of what happened with factory farming on Earth. My mind says, ‘Once factory farms get to Mars, perhaps it will be too late to prevent a future of constantly expanding space factory farms?’

I know essentially all EAs care about all sentient minds, including animal minds. And I know that the EAs focused on longtermism care about animal welfare, to the extent there will be animals in the longterm future.

My fear, though, is that, from my vantage point, longtermism and factory farming seem like two separate EA cause areas that are rarely discussed together. (This may be totally wrong, and I apologize if it is.) My decade in animal advocacy has taught me that farmed animals almost always get forgotten. And it has also taught me that people outside of the animal movement tend to have an inaccurately inflated sense of how powerful the animal movement is. So, I can’t help wondering: Will farmed animals get forgotten, when EAs succeed in figuring out a way to keep humanity going forever? Are longtermist EAs assuming that farmed-animal EAs have this issue covered, while farmed-animal EAs assume that longtermists have it covered?

Therefore, I want to ask three questions to my fellow EAs:

(1) What are we doing, and what can we do, to make sure factory farms don’t come with us, if humanity expands to other planets?

(2) If we digitize all minds, how will we ensure that digitized humans treat digitized animals better than flesh-and-blood humans currently treat flesh-and-blood animals?

(3) What are we doing, or what can we do, to ensure that future humans have a new ethic of being kind to animals?

Thank you all for everything you do to make the world, the future, and all conscious experiences, better! And thank you for your patience with an article written on a topic (longtermism) that I know very little about.