Defusing the Activist Threat

April 3, 2009

Just as there are people like Mark Hawthorne and me who publish ideas related to dismantling animal agriculture, there are people in the factory farming community who dispense advice on how to keep the activist threat at bay.

Too bad their advice is generally useless. It’s like the line from that Talking Heads song: “You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.”

Consider this advice from Cindy Cunningham, who, as the Vice President of the Pork Checkoff program, is sort of the Dick Cheney of pork marketing. You’d think she’d be in a fantastic position to say something insightful to help pork producers confront the activist threat. But no:

We know that there are activist groups out there with video cameras on farms trying to find things that aren’t done right so that they can exploit that. We know activist groups have to have a negative image so they can continue to raise money to work in opposition to animal agriculture. They’re goal is to end animal agriculture, to end meat consumption, and it’s publicly stated that way. So as producers we need to make sure we’re doing everything on our farms to demonstrate that we have done it right to take care of our animals.

Read that final sentence above a few times, and tell me: what does it mean? In the absence of details, it means absolutely nothing. Does it mean she’s suggesting pig farms get rid of gestation and farrowing crates? Does it mean egg farms should get rid of battery cages? Does it mean that ranchers should stop castrating without anesthetic? Without details like this, the above advice isn’t actually taking any sort of position.

And that’s the problem that factory farming faces. They’re totally locked into the status quo; relying on methods of animal care that the general public finds intolerable. Look at Tuesday’s Mercy For Animals egg farm investigation, for instance. The only way you can knock the teeth out of investigations like this is to rebuild animal agriculture from the ground up, abolishing all of the cruelest practices, and putting in their place a labor-intensive high-cost high-welfare system.

Factory farms are hellish by design. And in an industry that raises and slaughters more than 10 billion animals each year, the only way to reliably guard against future Mercy For Animals-style videos is to abolish the harshest systems: veal crates, battery cages, gestation crates, and so forth.

Saying producers should be “doing everything on our farms” to ensure proper animal care is gutless and meaningless unless this statement is accompanied by specific details. Factory farming is about to discover it can’t change public perception without changing reality. Link.

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