“Given the precarious status of federal legislation on flock welfare, every producer must exert their utmost efforts to prevent embarrassing videos.” — Simon M. Shane, Poultry Veterinarian and owner of http://egg-cite.com/, an egg industry news website
In the wake of new media attention on the controversial Ag-gag legislation under way in several states, I went searching for perspectives on the subject from egg industry insiders. And I discovered a recent article on the egg industry website, egg-cite.com, by Dr. Simon M. Shane about what he refers to as the threat of “intrusion videos” to the poultry industry. Rather predictably, Shane downplays the videos by claiming that the abuse captured on video represents a fraction of 1% of the industry. It’s an erroneous claim since no one, even an industry expert like himself, can rightfully claim that he knows enough about the extent of abuse and cruelty on farms, most of which goes unreported.
And of course what Shane and the industry might consider “abuse” or “cruelty” and what the public and animal advocacy community considers abuse are often dramatically different. For example, an industry that sees nothing wrong, let alone abusive, about confining a hen to a cage no larger than her body for her entire life cannot rightfully be trusted to either define or identify abuses in its own system. It’s a classic case of the fox minding the hen house. And industry people like Shane would like to keep it that way.
“The U.S. egg industry has been frequently impacted by videos alleging abuse of flocks. In most cases the depictions have been either contrived or at best questionable with respect to accuracy,” writes Shane. And yet Daniel Hauff, former Director of Investigations for Mercy for Animals, tells a very different side of the story. Hauff explains “on a daily basis MFA’s investigators documented cruelty, including severe neglect. Workers maliciously and/or sadistically abused animals for the egg, dairy, or meat industries in every single employment-based investigation, showing that cruelty is absolutely the ‘rule’ in animal agribusiness.”
Shane claims that “subsequent investigations by responsible and independent authorities have often failed to support allegations [made in the videos].” But according to Hauff, ‘Prosecutorial discretion’ is a shameful — yet legal — systemic injustice that gives state authorities a green light to ‘look the other way’ when their sponsors, political allies, or friends violate the law. Time and time again animal abusers simply aren’t held accountable, as cases such as Conklin Dairy Farm and frankly most other undercover investigations have indisputably proven.”
Shane says the solution to the threat of animal activism and damaging undercover videos is “… to ensure that company procedures and standards are maintained by physical inspection and close association with workers.” But some would argue that, aside from what we consider egregious abuse to animals captured on these videos, the most disturbing reality of modern poultry farming might just be what is considered “normal,” everyday standards and practices. The modern hen is a “Frankenstein” bird that produces on average 30 times more eggs than her body was designed for and in a fraction of her natural life. And during this brief window of her life, she is robbed of all of the experiences that could rightfully be considered “natural” or pleasurable to her. I can’t think of a greater example of the systemic abuse of a species.