Meet Chicago-based Rita Jane Gabbett, Executive Editor of Meatingplace.com, a meat industry news site. In her mission statement about the site, Gabbett seems to acknowledge that an industry that systematically kills 300 chickens a second has a formidable challenge in putting a positive spin on things. “I believe Meatingplace can be an ‘early warning system’ for the industry by choosing the most relevant stories to cover and writing them in a balanced, intelligent way,” says Gabbett, who will be speaking at the upcoming Protein Innovation Summit in Chicago. Gabbett’s presentation is entitled “Slimed: How Social Media Swamped the Science.”
Not only has the meat industry been hard at work making it illegal to take photos or record video inside of their farms and slaughterhouses, they also need media sources that function as “early warning systems,” according to Gabbett (or perhaps what they really need is an impenetrable fortress to keep the consumer out of their business).
The title of Gabbett’s talk seems to suggest that the meat industry has science on their side and that their critics are just unscientific and irrational social media hacks. But for me there is something a bit more insidious and slimy than pink slime.
It’s one thing to defend pink slime and portray it as the victim of unfair criticism. It’s yet another to attempt to manipulate public opinion through well-funded public relations campaigns that seek to legitimize what is nothing short of a war on millions of animals each day trapped inside of a system they had the great misfortune of being forcibly bred and born into. If science has anything important to say on this issue, science tells us that these highly sentient and intelligent beings share much of our DNA —and at the very least our basic capacity for experiencing pain and pleasure — and yet the meat industry uses and treats them as nothing more than elements of production. But we don’t even need science to see that.
Adding to the tone of paranoia at meatingplace.com, meet Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, who has a column on the Meatingplace website called “Activist Watch.” In a recent series of articles called “My Week on a ‘Fact’ory Farm: Part I,” Meredith chronicles her trip to a large sow breeding facility somewhere in the Midwest and writes, “No matter the industry practices I observed that first day—from tail docking to castration to artificial insemination—that theme of respect carried through. 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.”
Now again, let’s hold this statement to the scientific scrutiny Gabbett suggests we do earlier with pink slime. Why would the amputation of an animal’s tail or reproductive organ or the rectal penetration a female cow who must be forcibly constrained constitute “respect,” or somehow render them “happy” or “healthy”? Given that sentience — our capacity for pain and pleasure — is well-documented in animals as well, it defies logic to conclude that these things would be respectful when done to a pig but not to a human being.
Would Meredith consider it to be respectful if it were done to her without her consent? Or one of her family members? Clearly, what the industry spokespeople like Meredith see as “normal” or standard practices to animals (whom they view as commodities rather than sentient beings) is perhaps even more disturbing than the egregious cruelties documented in some of the infamous undercover documentaries we have all seen from groups like Mercy for Animals. Author Timothy Pachirat, who spent a year working inside of a slaughterhouse, illustrates this point so very well in his book Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.
In this same article, Meredith comments on how hostile and stressed the sows are when they are not in their gestation crates and are instead allowed to interact with each other in intensely confined environments. Blame the victim, Meredith. That’s what you’ve been taught when it comes to animals, right? Ignore the flagrantly obvious, that is, that such aggressive behavior might have something to do with the grossly unnatural conditions we subject them to. Ignore the fact that if these were humans instead of sows, they’d probably end up killing each other. That wouldn’t make us look too superior, would it?
I love it when meat industry insiders do all the work for us, revealing the contradictions and absurdities in their reasoning and their justifications for exploiting animals. It makes our job as activists so much easier. All we have to do is let them do the talking.