As I was browsing the meat industry news site MeatingPlace.com, I came across an article called “My Week on a “Fact”ory Farm: Part I” by Emily Meredith who is the communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance and who also writes a column called “Activist Watch” on the same site. Meredith defends the practices of the industrial pig farms she recently visited in her attempt to bring out the facts and debunk what she sees as distortions from the activist community. In the following article, I respond to various excerpts of Meredith’s original post.
Meredith: “’Factory farm’—it’s a term we in the industry have heard hurled at us as an insult; a catchy phrase created by the strategic public relations teams of the activist community.”
My response: Every other industry that mass produces a product with industrialized processes is called a factory, and they don’t object to this reference. Why do the industries that mass produce, objectify and commodify animals as resources get so defensive when they are called factories, too?
Meredith: “Last week I got an inside look—I had the opportunity to travel to the Midwest, and visit a vertically integrated, large-scale pork production operation. On my first day we toured two of the company’s sow farms, and I was extremely impressed with both.”
My response: Sounds efficient, just like a factory. We in the activist community also call these “sow breeding mills.” They’re just like puppy mills but with even more animals and more misery.
Meredith: “Over the course of my farm tours, I was reminded of a point I have made frequently in my blogs: that those most involved in animal agriculture are best equipped to make the decisions related to animal care.”
My response: Stick to the tour, Emily. We don’t buy the argument that the fox should be minding the hen house. Other industries are regulated by independent monitoring to ensure their compliance with laws. Why should animal agriculture be above the law?
Meredith: “In the two farm facilities we toured, one farm employed the group housing system and one farm exclusively used individual maternity pens [gestation crates]. I also observed the sows in the group housing being quite aggressive with each other, which leads to a great increase in wounds and mortality. I am embarrassed to admit that I always envisioned pigs as rather docile, lazy animals. Not the case… The sows rub up against each other, step over the others, and forcibly push each other out of the way sans an ‘excuse me’”
My response: Yeah, not necessarily the conditions we saw Babe living in, right? What a classic case of “blame the victim” and reverse logic. It can’t be the exploiters who are to blame for the victims’ bad behavior. Don’t blame the farmers for forcing the sows to live in an environment that is completely frustrating and unnatural to them and therefore brings out their most agitated behavior. Instead blame the sows for reacting with hostility and frustration to their overcrowded quarters, cold cement or slatted floors in which they walk above their own feces, and complete lack of access to outdoors. Can you imagine how human beings would react under these conditions?
Meredith: “[A]nimals will be animals: sows have basic instincts that they act on and that drive their behavior.”
My response: If you really want to know what the pig’s basic “instincts” are, you’re really in the wrong place, Emily. Expecting to see pigs on their best behavior there would be like going to a maximum-security prison and expecting to find a group of cheerful nuns. If you really want to know pigs, you need to visit a sanctuary to see what pigs are like when permitted to express their true nature because they have been provided with an environment that brings out the best in them. When it comes to both human and nonhuman animals alike, you reap what you sow. No pun intended.
Meredith: “Industry practices—like individual maternity pens [gestation crates] — have evolved over hundreds of years during which animal instincts were observed and analyzed by farmers and other animal caretakers… the industry has created tools to protect animals from injury or suffering.”
My response: Interesting logic. We create conditions that cause pigs to essentially go insane and justify this on the basis of maximizing efficiency and then we respond by creating more inhumane “tools” to keep them from hurting themselves? Human torture and genocide have also evolved over hundreds of years by those in power. We’ve now developed more efficient tools of torture and extermination, but we wouldn’t dare attempt to justify these practices based on their history. We’re still living in the Dark Ages, Emily, when it comes to our barbaric use and treatment of animals.
Meredith: “As I walked through the farm facilities, I couldn’t help notice the farm worker who stopped to stroke a sow on her flank, or pick up a newborn piglet who was trying to find his mother to nurse.”
My response: Aww. And here I thought you mentioned earlier how unlovable and aggressive these sows were. There’s something seriously twisted about being affectionate to the ones you are also performing castration and other bodily mutilations on, and ultimately sending off to slaughter for no other reason than because you like bacon.
Meredith: “Meeting and speaking with those who work with the animals every day, I know that they weren’t putting on a show for my benefit.”
My response: But Emily, isn’t that exactly what you’re doing for us? Putting on a show? Your show is about making depressed and miserable sows appear happy to be crated breeders, impregnated and forced to pump out babies, babies who will be quickly separated from their mothers, quickly fattened up to market weight and quickly slaughtered for their flesh. And “Mmmm, bacon” is the only response your followers have to this suffering.
Meredith: “No matter the industry practices I observed that first day—from tail docking to castration to artificial insemination—that theme of respect carried through.”
My response: Seriously?!!! What a disturbing feat of deception and self-delusion. How is it possible to “respect” someone by dismembering, amputating, sexually violating and forcibly impregnating them, all for the purpose of slaughtering them for your palate pleasure?
Meredith: “I saw no ‘factory’ and all farm—just workers who took great pride in being the best herdsmen to happy, healthy and well cared for animals.”
My response: What you saw was a distorted perception of reality that ignores the animal’s point of view entirely. You sabotage your goal of writing a factual account of animal treatment by revealing a complete and willful ignorance of the animals in question. Your foregone conclusion is based on wholly denying the fact that animals have interests — basic interests in staying alive, avoiding painful experiences, seeking pleasurable experiences, creating families and larger social units, and living in an environment that is natural to them and allows them to express their natural behaviors. And when you deny their interests, then you erase the ethical problems that arise from our exploitation of them as commodities. The problem is still there, Emily. And your blinders are still on real tight.