“Animal [AHA] standards for certification are really built on the 5 freedoms: freedom from hunger, from thirst, from pain, from any sort of stress or fear.” — Robin Ganzert, President of American Humane Association.
I transcribed Ganzert’s quote from a short video infomercial on the home page of the Foster Farms website which also features representatives from Foster Farms who explain how proud they are that the AHA (an independent animal charity) is validating their “humane” animal care claims.
In stark contrast to Ganzert’s pious performance in the informercial, this new Foster Farms happy chicken commercial portrays chicken puppet characters that are just ecstatic about the AHA humane certification program. The marketing gimmick reminds us of the Tyson Foods commercial depicting chickens in front of a dressing table and mirror, as if getting dolled up to go out on the town. In both cases, humor and denial are powerful tools used to mask the violence and oppression at the core of animal agriculture.
The Foster Farms commercial has become such a public relations fiasco that SPCA president Ken White publicly slams the AHA in the Huffington Post, writing, “My issue here is about messaging which reduces live animals to talking fools so desperate to be eaten that they adopt slapstick antics to fool us into thinking they were raised by this manufacturer rather than that manufacturer. And I am offended that an organization with the word humane in its name would lend that name to this effort.”
Aside from the creepy juxtaposition of chickens destined for slaughter represented as cartoon characters that appeal to children, and aside from the underlying premise of claiming that it is “humane” to kill animals we have no need to eat, what really strikes me is how shallow and innaccurate are the so-called “five freedoms.” The first is “freedom from hunger and thirst.” What farm starves or dehydrates animals they are trying to fatten up as quickly as possible? The opposite is actually true. Broiler chickens are permitted to do little more than eat in their short lives, so that they will grow to market weight quickly. They are confined to crowded spaces intentionally, so that they get little or no exercise and opportunity to burn calories.
The remaining freedoms focus mainly on freedom from “pain,” “stress,” “discomfort,” “fear,” “injury and disease.” How is it that the AHA can even claim to know, much less monitor on an individual level, what each chicken on each farm it certifies is experiencing, feeling or thinking? Chickens are individuals, with individual personalities, likes and dislikes. On our sanctuary, one chicken delights at the sight of a new visitor and eagerly approaches him with great curiosity, while another seeks a hiding place. A different visitor can elicit a completely different response from the same chickens. This indicates that they perceive us as individuals and respond accordingly.
As for freedom from injuries and disease, poultry farms perform “flock management” which means they treat the entire flock with the same procedures and drugs in the hopes of reducing disease, casualties and thus economic loses. They do not provide individualized care by a veterinarian, in the hopes of extending and improving the quality of their lives. This would be cost prohibitive for birds that have little market value and are killed within weeks of their birth.
I am at a loss to find a more cynical, repugnant or deceptive form of propaganda. The conventional propaganda from the meat industry is transparent: “We raise happy animals, so please buy our products with a clear conscience.” The Foster Farms – AHA collaboration represents a whole new level of appealing to the hearts and minds of consumers who care about animals and desperately want to believe in the humane myth.
Moreover, the notion that an individual is “free” from certain emotional states in an environment in which they are enslaved, confined and killed in their infancy is a myth that can only be explained by the logic of meat industry propaganda which seeks to turn reality on its head by portraying the victim as happy to be victimized.