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General News    H4'ed 7/7/17

Are Animal Rights Activists Winning or Losing On the Farm?

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Over the last 15 years, animal rights activists have forced farm animal treatment onto the national front page with a parade of cruel, upsetting and gruesome exposes and miniaturized cameras. To capture the farm verite all they had to do was get hired at a factory farm or slaughterhouse.

There is not a long line to fill jobs whose descriptions are, "Remove dead animals from 98 degree ammonia-infused pens wearing face mask, $8 an hour possible, depending on experience," or "Determine sex of newborn chicks and grind up unwanted males while they are alive for dog food: $6 dollars an hour; chance for advancement."

Fast Food Is Cheap Thanks to Foreign Labor
Fast Food Is Cheap Thanks to Foreign Labor
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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Many who are against "immigration" would be shocked to see how much their hamburger or chicken "tenders" would cost without foreign-born labor. Slaughterhouse jobs are so physically and psychologically unbearable, even convicts allowed to leave their cells to work on the killing floor quit. They would rather stay in their cells.

In response to the exposes, Big Food has tried to make the depiction of factory farm conditions a crime with "Ag Gag" bills that clearly violate the First Amendment. Even reporters who receive documentation would be criminalized under some bills.

Ironically, consumers want to know how an animal lived, died, and even what it ate in between -- more than ever. Some of the newly engaged consumers are motivated by health, wanting to avoid hormones in milk, antibiotics in beef, arsenic in chicken and who know what in seafood. But most are motivated by what meat producers would call sentimentalizing animals -- not wanting them to suffer and die.

Not everyone who sees cruelty on the farm is moved or upset. Meat tastes good, they may reason, plus my meat was not produced with such methods. Yet almost everyone who does go vegan or vegetarian does so because they saw the cruel images. Personally, I gave up meat in 1970 (when I was very, very young) after viewing a bullfight. I have never looked back...

Not My Farm and Even If It Was...

Many farmers and ag professionals are miffed that the days of "it's-none-of-your- business" animal farming are over. Once upon a time, consumers cared only about price and wholesomeness of food and didn't worry about -- or investigate -- its origins and "disassembly." Undercover videos have changed all that. They show a clear connection between cruelty to animals, cruelty to workers, abuses to the environment (such as manure spills and fish kills) and unwholesome products that sicken humans. They all result from the pursuit of cheap meat--a product which is almost as bad for us as cigarettes. (Meat is correlated with heart disease, many cancers, other diseases, obesity and early death.)

When food producers are caught red-handed abusing their animals on video, their defenses are often over the top. "That's not our farm," they claim," and even if it is, those are not abusive practices and even if they are abusive practices, the employees were put up to it by the activists, and even if they weren't put up to it, there were only a few bad apples and we've fired them and even if there were a few bad apples, why did the activists tolerate the abuse and not report it to us and even if they did report the abuse to us, these people have a vegetarian agenda and want everyone to give up meat!"

Revelations of cruelty on U.S. farms often have immediate, "viral" results. Customers of the operation sometimes suspend their business, consumers may boycott products, and politicians have even introduced legislation to stop exposed cruel practices. Yet prosecuting attorneys almost never bring charges because the victims are just animals and farm animals to boot. Prosecuting attorneys even say they will launch "their own" investigations as if the farm operations would not have been subsequently cleaned up after exposing videos.

Rather than criminalizing undercover animal rights activists who document abuse, meat producers, government regulators, and food consumers need to contemplate the ethics of a system of production that has become so cheap there is no room for the welfare of the animals in the equation. As the activists say, "Are you really that hungry?"

(Article changed on July 7, 2017 at 16:01)

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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