The Cruelty Coalition

January 3, 2012

I’ve been writing about factory farming for more than fifteen years, and in that time I’ve seen loads of scuzzy and appalling behavior. But when it comes to the sheer over-the-top dickishness of major industry bodies, I’ve never seen anything rise to the level of what they’ve pulled this past week.

You may recall that last July, the United Egg Producers (UEP) agreed to a slow but total phaseout of battery cages. In my eyes, there’s no agribusiness cruelty that deserves greater priority, since these cages represent the harshest confinement method imaginable—and currently confine about 250 million USA layer hens per year.

So when the UEP agreed to a timetable for getting rid of battery cages by 2029, and introducing federal oversight to prevent other egg industry cruelties, this amounted to an historic win for farmed animals. It was good for egg producers, who no longer had a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their capital investments. It was good for groups like the Humane Society, who could redirect resources to go after cruelties in other sectors off agribusiness. And it was most certainly good for the hens.

What this agreement wasn’t not good for is the rest of animal agribusiness, who now regard the UEP with the same contempt that John Gotti had for Sammy the Bull Gravano. See, the best way to keep factory farm cruelties in place is to present a united front. So long as every sector of animal agribusiness fights every reform at every turn—no matter how small or how reasonable the reform in question may be—animal protection campaigners have no easy starting point.

But with last July’s agreement, vital precedent was established. Now that battery cages are on their way out, the logical question is why other agribusiness cruelties are widely practiced, with no schedule yet in place for phasing them out.

The top agribusiness trade groups know that they’ll soon be under unprecedented pressure to address these cruelties. So how have they responded? By launching an all-out effort to lobby congress against approving the battery cage ban. What’s sickening here is that we’ve got groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Milk Producers Federation all united to oppose the phase out of battery cages; a confinement method that none of these industries even use! And for good measure, the American Farm Bureau and the sheep and turkey trade groups have signed on to fight the battery cage ban as well. If you ever needed proof that every sector of animal agribusiness sees cruel farming methods as an indispensable part of its business model, look no further.

So this is what the struggle against farmed animal cruelty has come to: meat and milk producers fighting to preserve animal cruelty outside their own industries, out of fear that a more humane farming landscape will render their own industries’ cruelties indefensible. Link.

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