There's been a buzz about the last post on Animal Rights and Boundaries (my facebook profile has been hijacked). I was asked my opinion on the topic, so here's my two cents worth. Note: I feel as qualified to talk about the meat industry as I do talking about the colors of fingernail polish, but here it goes.
There is a profound difference between man and animal. Schaeffer makes the point wonderfully - God is infinite and personal; man is finite and personal. Man is like the rest of creation, including animals, in his finiteness. Yet, man is unlike all of creation and like God in his personhood. We are a 'higher' species in that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6) and that is a unique characteristic of mankind. Man is the capstone of God's creative endeavor. Only after the creation of man did he deem his work 'very good' (Gen. 1:31).
Moreover, God acted in his Son to save individual humans. That cannot be said of animals. I have the hope that my grandfather though he physically died 17yrs ago, is still alive and will one day experience the resurrection from the dead. I have reasonable hope that my dog flash is still alive (my parents had him put to sleep and lied to me about it - mean, just mean), nor do I have a reasonable hope that he will experience a resurrection.
I am very scared about what will/would happen if this distinction is lost. From 'we should treat animals like humans because we're essentially the same' it is not a far stretch to 'we can treat humans like animals because we're essentially the same'. The unique dignity of man must be guarded. (This, I think, was Walter Kaiser's main point).
Having said all that, I do think God cares about the whole of his creation including animals. Two verses come to mind. First, God is apparently concerned the many cattle would be destroyed along with all the people of Nineveh if they did not repent (Jonah 4:11). Also, he instruct the Israelites not to 'muzzle an ox' when it is working (Deut 25:4) - it needed to eat and God wanted to make sure the his people cared for the basic needs of their animals. God has certainly given us dominion over animals and they are our servants, but again, this doesn't give us free reign to treat them however we want. We are to care for them and be good stewards of them (as we are all of creation).
The balance to what I said earlier about Christ not saving individual animals is that Christ has redeemed and is saving the whole of creation (Caleb reminded me today that the child will get to play with the cobra! I think he's looking forward to that alot.)
Practically, I think we should be concerned about the unethical treatment of animals. say more (here's where I know I'm out of my area of competency to speak). I dont' think you make a case for mandatory vegitarianism from the Bible (eating meat is explicitly allowed in Gen. 9:2-3 and is presupposed in the NT - the question wasn't 'can I eat meat' but 'can I eat meat sacrificed to idols'). I will choose to believe what I have been told about the conditions of animals at 'factory farms' on faith not having researched it at all. The conditions, from what I've been told, are deplorable. It doesn't seem to be a strech to insist that animals that can feel pain not be subjected to needless pain.
Should we stop purchasing meat at supermarkets and buy from local farms. Again, I don't know because I haven't done my homework. I'd be willing to spend an extra buck or two (maybe three) per pound to do so - but I don't know, free range chickens could go for $20 a pound. I've never been to Bloomingfoods or Sahara Mart. Maybe next week. I would be willing to sacrifice to an extent to purchase free range products and meats from small family farms. I will not, however, sacrifice my families health and well-being however. In other words, if it comes down to buying meat from cheap supermarkets or not buying meat from local farms because it's to expensive, it's a no brainer.
I think there is a real issue of whether or not family farms can produce enough to feed everyone, yet I also think it would not be a bad thing for us to cut back on our meat consumption (on average, American's eat 200 pounds of meat a year - way up from just a few decades ago).
As for how to encourage more ethical treatments of animals and less meat consumption - i'm stuck here. I hate big government. I embrace free market capitalism. And I don't think 'factory farms' will ever change on their own. Based on what little I know about it, I don't think Proposition 2 in California was too far off base (I just scared myself - I agreed with something politicians in Cali did. What's happening to me?), but I admit I know little.
I'm not against 'frankenfood'. As my uncle says, "here's to a better life through chemicals!". If they have side effects, work to make better chemicals that won't. I doubt the side effects outweigh the benefits (less famine, fewer diseases wiping out whole herds and threatening food supplies, etc).
I look forward to getting a copy of Kaiser's book. I'll let you know what I learn. I have to go now and write a post about fingernail polish color - another area of expertise.