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General News    H4'ed 11/9/17

Is the Way Your Meat Was Produced Your Business?

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Big Food is miffed that the days of "it's-none-of-your-business" farming are over. Once upon a time, consumers cared only about the price and wholesomeness of food and didn't worry about--or investigate--its origins and "disassembly."

Now, consumers increasingly want to know how an animal lived, died, and even what it ate in between. Worse, they think it is their business. 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. Many more are motivated by ethics--not wanting to see animals suffer.

Increasingly consumers want to know how their food was produced
Increasingly consumers want to know how their food was produced
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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There is no question that animal rights activists, with the help of miniaturized cameras and the Web, have forced farm animal treatment onto the national front page with a parade of cruel and upsetting exposes. To capture the farm verite all they often have to do is get hired at a factory farm or slaughterhouse.

How hard is it to get hired in a slaughterhouse or on factory farm? Can you fog a mirror? Do you have a pulse? Can you start this afternoon? 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 for dog food: $6 dollars an hour; chance for advancement."

Shocked at the new brand of conscientious food consumer, Big Food has pushed back.

"Congress could require U.S. farmers to supply every pig, chicken, duck, and cow with private rooms, daily rubdowns, video iPods, and organic meals catered by Wolfgang Puck," said David Martosko the Center's the Director of Research, at Congressional hearings about humane slaughter. "But even this wouldn't satisfy activists who actually believe farm animals have the 'right' not to be eaten."

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, another pushback group, told journalists that "improvements in animal welfare should be based on reason, science and experience, not on the opinions of activists who have absolutely no vested interest in farm animals." Of course "not having a vested financial stake in the use of animals" is exactly what legitimizes activists' complaints----they are not doing it "for the money."

So it is no surprise that states, with the help of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have been writing "Ag-Gag" bills that criminalize producing, distributing or even possessing photos and video taken without permission at an agricultural facility. They also criminalize lying on a work application to work at an agriculture facility "with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner."

Is such "Kill the Messenger" protectionism legal? Probably not. Two years ago, a U.S. district court ruled such a law in Idaho unconstitutional because it denied the exercise of the right to free speech even though states' ag biz "may not agree with the message."

Snuffing free speech may be a lot cheaper for Big Food than reforming animal production. But Big Food can't as easily suppress the new breed of conscientious consumers who want to know their food's origins.

(Article changed on November 9, 2017 at 06:34)

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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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