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Pay No Attention to those Videos, Say Factory Farmers

By       Message Martha Rosenberg       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   14 comments

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Many factory farmers and ag professionals are 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--and 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 knows what in seafood. But most are motivated by what Big Food calls sentimentalizing animals--not wanting them to suffer and die.

Before hidden cameras, undercover employees and Internet exposes, Big Food was not told how to "farm" as long as basic product safety was observed and food consumers were not made sick. Animal welfare laws were not applied to livestock and to this day it is hard to get cruelty convictions for "mere" farm animals. Big Food is known to actually mock humane issues--should animals have "private rooms and daily rubdowns" asked the Center for Consumer Freedom's David Martosko--and to claim that better animal treatment would cost consumers more. (What do you want, good prices or animal welfare?)

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After grisly exposes, Big Food players usually circle the wagons and fight a "slippery slope." In 2005, a delegate to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Walter K. McCarthy, said that he was afraid foie gras bans, which exist in many countries, would lead to resolutions against veal calves and other "production agriculture." Foie gras production requires geese and ducks to be force-fed to bloat their livers, often until they can barely walk and their throats are bloody or punctured. (The videos are available on line.) "We cannot condemn an accepted agricultural practice on . . . emotion," said McCarthy, a veterinarian who presumably took the oath "I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for...the prevention and relief of animal suffering."

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They are doing WHAT to birds?
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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Chefs have also used the "slippery slope" arguments to defend foie gras. When the late celebrity Chicago chef Charlie Trotter renounced foie gras on his menu a decade ago, rival chef Rick Tramonto of Tru restaurant regaled him for alleged hypocrisy. "Look how much veal this country goes through with all the Italian restaurants and the scallopinis [sic]," he said. "It's killing those babies, right?"

Paul Kahan, chef at Chicago's Blackbird restaurant, joined in the fray. "There are so many things people eat every day that are raised in an inhumane way," he said. "The way chickens are raised, if people saw it . . . commodity pork, I could just go on." What about rabbit and squab? added celebrity chef Grant Achatz.

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The chefs also brought up "freedom of choice" arguments which have been used to defend everything from slavery to child labor to trophy hunting. "Why should someone tell us what we can or can't serve, buy or produce that the FDA puts its stamp on daily?" asked chef Michael Tsonton of Copperblue restaurant .

Chefs also tried the "let the market decide" argument. "We live in a free-market society and if people are truly offended they won't buy it," agreed David Richards, owner of Sweets & Savories. (Hey Richards: if the purse power of the "offended" worked why did we need the Civil Rights Act of 1964?)

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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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