Last week I asked esteemed journalist and agricultural history professor James McWilliams to write an open letter to the Northwest Indiana Times regarding their sensationalized coverage of the new Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms. I want this letter to coincide with Pig Adventure’s highly-publicized grand opening on August 5th. The McWilliams letter, which is posted below, will soon be available online for those who would like to sign on and add their comments. We will deliver the signatures and comments posted to this open letter to both NWI as well as Fair Oaks Farms Communications Director, Jed Stockton.
Your paper’s recent coverage of Fair Oak Farm’s Pig Adventure (“Fair Oaks Farms Latest Innovation Goes Hog Wild,” July 21) was an egregious case of irresponsible journalism. Most notably, through a seemingly innocuous “local flavor” story, your article cynically obscured immense and unconscionable suffering, thereby abandoning any attempt to achieve balance and, in turn, doing a basic disservice to your readers.
My sense is that your readership, if it really knew exactly what pigs experience in the name of the agritourism you promote, would never tolerate such an “adventure,” much less your starry-eyed coverage of it. If I have learned anything as a writer who publishes widely in the mainstream media, it’s that reporters have an implicit but grave obligation to balance a celebratory approach to animal issues with an accurate overview of the ethical implications of confining and slaughtering animals for food we do not need.
Your piece, at the least, should have included the following information: a) pigs are emotionally astute animals whose intelligence level has been compared to five-year old humans; b) no matter how they are raised, pigs experience the pain and terror of slaughter with acute sensitivity; c) in most cases, even when they are “humanely” raised, pigs are castrated without anesthesia, affixed with nose rings (which makes rooting painful), and separated from their own tails, again, without anesthesia, all of which causes them to be depressed. By any standard, these facts strongly suggest that there is a dark side to the operation your article praises as being, among other things, educational for children.
Finally, what rankles most about your coverage of Fair Oaks’ Farm is how out of sync it is with the enlightened thrust of today’s journalistic standards. It’s truly rare in an atmosphere of deep skepticism of factory farming to find a news outlet publishing pieces supportive of an animal operation that produces 250 pigs a day. This is an embarrassingly retrograde position to take, and one for which you owe readers, not to mention the animals you treat as playthings in the hands of profiteers, an apology.