In conversations with farmers who breed and raise animals for slaughter they will almost invariably claim to care about the animals they raise. Many will even insist that the cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys they breed and raise for the express purpose of sending them to slaughter are just as cherished and beloved as their own pets. Claiming to care about an animal from whose death and dismemberment you stand to turn a tidy profit is of course an a priori absurdity, though one that is apparently lost on those who make it, as well as on those who attempt to mollify their own consciences by eating only meat that is the product of “humane” farming practices. After all, if the animal you're eating was raised “humanely”, doesn't it necessarily follow that the farmer who raised her cared about her?
As far as I can tell, there are only three things that would compel a farmer to claim something as outlandish as that he cares about the animals whom he exploits to the fullest. The first is good old-fashioned insincerity, or, as it is less euphemistically referred to: lying. There is nothing new or unusual about people lying in order to make themselves and their products seem more appealing and there is no reason at all to believe that farmers are somehow invulnerable to such temptations, especially when to claim not to care about their animals would be to risk alienating so many of their current and potential customers. Whatever else farmers may be, at the end of the day, they are business people, selling both a product and an image and there is great advantage to be gained from convincing consumers that they care about the animals upon whom their livelihoods depend, however fallacious or logically untenable that claim may be.
The second reason someone would claim that caring about an animal is in any way compatible with raising that animal specifically for slaughter and dismemberment is that such a person suffers from cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonace is ubiquitous among people in all cultures, but where our treatment of animals is concerned, most of us seem vulnerable to a particularly insidious strain of it. A recent poll found that nearly one-third of all Americans believe that non-human animals should have the same rights as humans; and yet, only 2.5% of Americans are vegan. This enormous disparity between professed beliefs and everyday actions illustrates rather poignantly the pervasiveness of cognitive dissonance within American culture. A huge percentage of presumably otherwise rational people in American society seem to believe, simultaneously, that non-human animals should have the same rights as human-beings and that it is perfectly copacetic to kill and eat the very animals to whom they would arrogate the very rights due to themselves and to the other members of their own species. And if over thirty percent of Americans maintain these wholly incompatible views regarding non-human animals, then there is no reason to suspect that people who breed and raise animals for slaughter don't or couldn't hold similarly discordant beliefs.
The third and, I believe, most logically (though by no means morally) defensible justification for the claim that one cares about an animal whom one has raised for slaughter involves a bit of semantic legerdemain by which the sense in which one cares about the animal is left unstated. This is the old rhetorical standby of many an evasive politician and is known colloquially as “ambiguity”. When I say that I care about animals, I know precisely what I mean by it and I can be reasonably confident that my meaning will not be misconstrued. I care about animals as fellow creatures with rights, interests, and liberties similar to my own, and I do not believe that they should suffer unnecessarily or be exploited and oppressed. That is what it is to care about someone as a sentient being, and not as a mere commodity, which is the only sense in which farmers appear to care about the animals they raise for slaughter. No other interpretation of the claim to care about an animal whom one has raised for the sole purpose of commodification is even remotely credible if the term “to care about” is to be understood in its conventional sense of “to possess concern for the well-being of”. There is simply no reconciling a sincere concern for someone's well-being with the intention to send her to slaughter and profit from the sale of her dismembered body. The claim to care about someone is utterly irreconcilable with the intention to destroy him.
If, however, the farmer's care for the animal does not extend to that animal as a fellow creature with rights, interests, and liberties, but is limited to her status as a commodity, then the farmer's claim to care about her suddenly requires no further justification or rationalization. It is exactly the attitude one would expect any business person to have about his or her product, and any business person who didn't care about her product would probably not be in business for very long. So, yes, in this much less magnanimous sense of the term, farmers can be said to care about their animals, but that should not comfort anyone who cares about animals as anything more than mere commodities. To those who sincerely care about non-human animals as the sentient beings that they are, as the possessors of indefeasible rights, interests, and liberties similar to one's own, the option of participating in their destruction is simply not available. And this applies to consumers as much as it applies to farmers.
The best way to evaluate someone's claim to care about animals is to ask them the following question: When you care about someone, do you protect them from harm, or lead them to it? If your interlocutor finds this simple question unanswerable or suddenly grows palpably uneasy when it is asked, you can be assured that what he or she means by “caring about” is something much different from the term's conventional connotation. And you can expect at that point either radio silence or a veritable barrage of obfuscation and rationalization. In either case, your question will have been answered. Rational, sane, decent people do not destroy those whom they care about. Nor do rational, sane, decent people countenance the claims of those who profess to care about those whom they destroy.