Silence of the Lambs and Pigs
Introduction and Summaries
“How State Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers”
- Website Title: The Atlantic
- Article Title: Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers
- Publisher: Atlantic Media Company
- Electronically Published: March 25, 2013
- Date Accessed: November 05, 2014
- Author: Cody Carlson
Carlson, Cody. “How State Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.
By Cody Carlson, a writer based in New York and a former investigator for Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.
Carlson’s history as an investigator for the Humane Society indicates he is likely a strong advocate for the rights of animals, and that furthermore he will be inclined to fault the agriculture industry (hog farmers, slaughterhouse operators, agriculture-friendly public relations firms) for its inhumane treatment of animals. Furthermore, Carlson went undercover for Mercy for Animals, using a hidden camera to document the use of gestation crates to confine hogs during the 2-3 years they are kept constantly pregnant to produce piglets. This experience convinced him that gestation crates are inhumane, which strengthened his resolve to combat accepted meat industry practices.
Atlantic Monthly is a respected but popular publication considered to be liberal or left-leaning, generally respectful of its subjects but decidedly opinionated in favor of a progressive agenda. It does not take overtly political positions on most issues, but its articles would be more likely to favor workers’ rights than employers’, as an example.
The lead-in to the article indicates clearly that its purpose is to accuse the agriculture industry of abusing animals and silencing critics who wish to publicize the cruelty of agricultural practices. It says:
Across the nation, the agriculture lobby is pushing legislators to pass bills that would hobble undercover investigations that help prevent abuse.
That message appears above a photograph of “a cow too sick or injured to walk . . . at a meatpacking plant.” The caption also reports that the plant’s owners “settled a civil case with the Humane Society and the Justice Department for nearly $500 million.” The clear implication of the caption, the author, and presumably the magazine, is that meatpackers abuse animals and will pay massive settlements to avoid prosecution. It also portrays “undercover investigators” as animal champions on the “right side” of the issue.
The likely audience for the article consists of:
- Animal rights advocates who feel stymied getting access to the information they need to convince the public that abuses take place
- Readers generally sympathetic to animal kindness who will be appalled to hear both that abuses are common and that the industry is able to keep the abuse secret.
- Readers generally antagonistic to big corporate agriculture (favorable toward smaller, local, sustainable farms) who want to curb the practices of BigAg that make it impossible to compete against.
- Readers on the fence who enjoy low food prices and wish to ignore the inhumane methods employed to achieve the cost savings.
- Activists who will be able to cite New Jersey’s new ban on gestation crates as evidence that some states can promote humane husbandry practices despite heavy pressure from the agriculture lobby.
First Reading Summary
Big Agriculture is massively successful at achieving high yields, both for plant crops and for animal products, using “common and accepted farming practices” that are too often environmentally unsound or inhumane to animals. The massive factory farms that produce the most food at the lowest cost operate in secrecy because the public would be appalled to learn how cruelly the animals that provide our food are treated.
Lobbied heavily by the BigAg advocates with huge budgets, legislators in many states have made it a felony to document the practices inside these farms. And with good reason, it turns out. The author posted his own documentary footage on YouTube to build public outrage against hog gestation crates, a method that “shaves a few cents off of pork prices, but at a much greater cost to the pig.” He claims the film led to New Jersey’s recent ban of such crates thereby justifying his undercover activity.
Many legislatures are going farther to protect the rights of farmers to conduct business any way they wish. If they have laws banning animal cruelty at all, 37 states have amended them to exempt from the rules “common” or “normal” farming practices, so as long as cruelty is practiced routinely it can’t be prosecuted as criminal. And keeping agriculture’s practices secret goes even further to protect farm operators safe from charges that their practices are not normal.
The US model is not the only successful farming model, nor is it the best. European meat producers and dairy and egg farms have banned most practices used by American factory farms. Most importantly, they protect conscientious food producers from being undercut by unscrupulous competitors, keeping inhumanely-produced products out of the marketplace, and providing assistance to farms that exceed the minimum requirements for humane practices.
The author hopes that New Jersey’s recent ban of hog gestation crates is a step toward adopting EU-style regulations of factory farms and an end to America’s addiction to low food costs “at any price” to animals.
“Animal Rights Issue Complicates Farm Bill“
- Publication Title: National Journal Daily A.M.
- Article Title: Animal Rights Issue Complicates Farm Bill
- Publisher: Atlantic Media Inc.
- Electronically Published: July 24, 2012
- Date Accessed: November 10, 2014
- Author: Ben Terris
By Ben Terris, staff reporter for National Journal of Washington, DC, when this piece was written, now at the Style section of the Washington Post where he writes mostly about lawmakers, many Republican, some Democratic or independent. Reading through his catalog, I thought, “He’s written a surprising number of articles about Republican lawmakers and animals.” His self-description on his twitter page: “I’ve written a surprising number of stories about Republican lawmakers and animals.” In his many profile pieces about legislators, Terris is evenhandedly skeptical but particularly so about the blindness of tea party conservatives to the damage their policies could inflict on the country’s economy and ecology. Though he goes on a wild boar hunt in a piece for the Atlantic Monthly, he is clearly not eager to the task, which he undergoes to momentarily bond with “congress’s most conservative member,” Republican freshman representative Dennis Ross.
National Journal is described by the American Journalism Review as a 40-year-old start-up. “For more than 40 years, National Journal has been a leading player in the Washington information game, acquiring a reputation for being comprehensive, objective and serious.” Not as lively or edgy as new upstarts like the free website Politico, the weekly National Journal—which fetches $2,100 for an annual subscription—was until recently considered stodgy by comparison. But it’s been overhauled since, trading out most of its senior staff for top young talent. It’s still considered an essential reference tool for Washington political operatives who need longer-form articles on policy issues.
Terris’s article appears to be open-handed and objective, but I detect in the editing a pro-animal rights, anti-pork producers political slant that is essential to its presentation of the case.
Terris presents California’s mandate of humane treatment of laying hens as the progressive and desirable outcome of a cooperation between the Humane Society, the State of California, and the Egg Producers association.
When he quotes Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, his clear intention is to make the man (and by association the farmers) sound callously cruel: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around. The only real measure of their well-being we have is the number of piglets per birth, and that’s at an all-time high.”
He further characterizes The National Pork Producers Council as anti-animal, with the comment that the NPPC is worried that “if chickens are given the right to more space in their cages, then so too will pigs.” The clear implication of “given the right” is that the NPPC does not believe the animal have rights; that they only have whatever rights are “given to them” by their human handlers.
The industry website PorkNetwork.com reports that the NPPC is distancing itself from Warner’s remarks, calling him “an employee,” not “a spokesman,” and indicating further that “the comments were inappropriate and do not represent the views of our organization.” But the NPPC’s own website identifies Warner as the group’s Director of Communications.
Terris further characterizes Rep. King as a legislator not opposed to foie gras, which will immediately raise the ire of animal activists opposed to the brutal force-feeding of ducks or geese to enlarge their livers for the cruel delicacy banned in California.
- Animal rights advocates who need ammunition to prove that legislators routinely support the rights of big farm livestock producers at the expense of the livestock.
- Readers generally sympathetic to humane treatment of agriculture animals who will want to know if we are making progress toward an EU-style policy to protect humane producers.
- Policy wonks who want to know the inside politics behind a particular amendment to the Agriculture Bill.
- Livestock producers and Big Ag supporters who the author wants to put on notice that he is watching carefully who objects to the amendment.
- Farmers in states other than California who might learn from the California legislation that prohibits importation of inhumanely-raised animal products from other states.
Second Reading Summary
California has come as close as any state to achieving the ideal of an EU-style humane marketplace for egg producers within the state’s borders.
In 2008, the state passed legislation outlawing tiny crates for egg-laying chickens on factory farms. It mandates other “environmental enrichments” for chickens, too, which put it at odds with the United Egg Producers association. But the two are now cooperating, along with the Humane Society of the United States, to take the measure national by getting it into the US Farm Bill.
To get the support of California’s egg producers, the state outlawed imports of eggs from states and countries that violate California’s standards for the treatment of laying hens. The provision mirrors the method the European Union uses to prevent lower-priced competition from less ethical producers.
If the egg standards become national policy, pork, cattle, and sheep producers fear they will be forced to adopt more humane (and more expensive) husbandry methods too. Unlike the egg producers, they’re resisting the standards and have found powerful support in Congress.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wants to strike the proposed amendment, and even more, wants to make California’s ban on imported eggs illegal, to protect what he calls, “the responsible production of meat” against, again his words, “the vegetarian agenda.” If he prevails, California will be able to mandate humane treatment on California farms, but will not be able to restrict egg imports on the grounds of inhumane production techniques.
Either: “The Future of ‘Ag Gag’ Laws: Activism Versus Industry – Record.” Record. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Or: “Chris Christie’s Pig Pro Quo.” NSFWCORP. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
My Take (Preliminary)
Based on Readings 1 and 2
Because this model is a work-in-progress, the My Take section is preliminary. You won’t be producing individual My Take sections for each reading. Instead, you’ll wait until you’ve critically summarized all three readings to add your own voice to the conversation. Understood? This is how mine looks after analyzing two readings. Let’s begin.
Admittedly, my attitude before beginning my investigation of this topic was favorable toward responsible animal husbandry. I’ve been appalled to see footage of slaughterhouse practices that appear to be viciously abusive of individual animals. I’m sickened to think that we feel entitled to treat sentient beings inhumanely just to save money on our food bills.
I don’t know how much joy or contentment ducks, hens, and pigs experience, but my close relationship with dogs persuades me that humans with control over animals can make responsible choices that our own observations tell us can either cause or spare those animals distress, pain, and suffering.
I eat meat but reject veal, my small rejection of what I believe to be a product that cannot be humanely produced. I reject foie gras for the same reason. I maintain that meat eaters should visit a farm to witness the treatment of the animals that provide the meat. That goes for dairy products too. We’d better appreciate the contributions of animals to our diet if we slaughtered our own livestock, but failing that, we should at least be willing to witness their sacrifice as the cost of eating what they provide. If we’re disgusted at the way chickens are cooped to maximize egg production, we should stop eating eggs or find an egg producer that doesn’t confine the laying hens into pens too small to turn around in.
At the same time, I’m aware of the power of images to overtake the actual truth of a story. The photo of the cow on its side at the top of the Atlantic article is a good example of a “documentary” approach bordering on propaganda. The caption itself indicates that the photo’s meaning is unclear. The cow is either too sick or injured to walk. The picture’s implication, that meat plants are full of sick, injured animals left to lie on the ground, is only convincing to an audience already inclined to believe that factory farms are cruel. Such is the power of the isolated image to hijack a story.
So I have some misgivings about siding completely with the activists who sneak their cameras into factory farms to capture “hours and hours” of footage, only to edit that footage down to a few minutes of carefully selected horror shots and present them as if they were the whole horrible truth about conditions inside a packing plant, or a production farm. Activists aren’t objective. They’re no more interested in telling the unvarnished truth than the big commercial operations. The longer they work in their field, the more committed they become to a version of the truth that suits the needs of their careers. They find the horror because they go looking for it.
The obvious solution would be for farms to welcome the public in to judge for themselves. Clearly, it’s the secrecy of their operations that feeds our suspicion that they’re trying to hide their hideous practices.
The cooperation of the California egg producers and the Humane Society offers hope that farmers can escape from the market imperative to trim every cost and maximize every pound of animal flesh—at terrible cost to the animals—just to achieve a lower price than the competition.
Although Ben Terris’s Farm Bill reading is not “about” Ag-Gag laws like Cody Carlson’s article in the Atlantic, both address the question of what rights livestock animals have to humane treatment by the humans who raise them for food.
If it weren’t for those merciless market forces driving food producers to constantly lower the bottom line, farmers wouldn’t feel compelled to squeeze more hens into every enclosure, for example. The upside of competition, on which capitalism depends, is the bounty of affordable protein human inventiveness can deliver. The downside of capitalism is that it punishes the generosity of producers who spend more on better working conditions, for their employees or, in this case, for their living products.
The two readings overlap where the egg producers’ compulsion to cruelly confine their hens meets the animal activists’ compulsion to discover and publicize the inhumane conditions the producers are afraid to divulge.
I have visited many farms and talked with many farmers about their practices, some conventional, some organic, but all small. I’m not always delighted to see how things are done, but I can always accept that trade-offs are made in human endeavors compelled by market realities. If our huge food industry insists on keeping its practices secret, and if our governments keep passing laws that endorse that secrecy by outlawing disclosure of their practices, then we can’t help but think the worst.
The worst aspect of the fight over the Farm Bill amendment is that legislators are resisting their own constituents’ desire to take back some control over the production of their own food. Market forces alone cannot be permitted to dictate how we treat one another, even in business. Rep. King knows very well that if California is not permitted to restrict sales of products it deems inhumane, there will be no curbs against inhumanity. Even the cruelest treatment stops seeming cruel once it’s been identified as “customary industry practice.”
We’d all be better off if farms were open places with transparent practices we could either choose to endorse or condemn. As long as we’re willing to pay the price for humane treatment of the animals that feed us, we should be encouraged to do so, not discouraged from wanting to know. The beauty of the California model is that it expresses the conscience of an entire state to make the ethical choice.
The danger of the California model, to its opponents, is that it deprives individuals the right to make their own choices.
Carlson, Cody. “How State Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.
Terris, B. (2012). Animal-rights issue complicates farm bill. Washington: Atlantic Media, Inc. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.rowan.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1027933258?accountid=13605
“Foie Gras De L’horreur 1/2 –The Truth about Foie Gras.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
“Chris Christie’s Pig Pro Quo.” NSFWCORP. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
“The Future of ‘Ag Gag’ Laws: Activism Versus Industry – Record.” Record. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Thank you, thefluxcapacitor. It’s amazing that the Council is trying to distance itself from remarks made by its own Director of Communications.