The industrialisation of agriculture has led to considerable alterations at both the technological and economical levels of animal farming. Several animal welfare issues of modern animal agriculture – e.g. stress and stereotypical behaviour – can be traced back to the industrialised intensification of housing and numbers of animals in production. Although these welfare issues dictate ethical criticism, it is the claim of this article that such direct welfare issues are only the forefront of a greater systemic ethical problem inherent to industrialisation. Consequently, this article provides an analysis of the foundational ethical problems in animal agriculture which derive from (I) overly positivistic science and (II) free-market ideology. It will be argued that both these ways of thinking allow for a systematic reification and commodification of animals and that this contributes to language and attitudes which cannot encompass ethical consideration of animals.