Reading agribusiness officials’ responses to undercover exposés documenting egregious acts of cruelty to farm animals can be truly mind-boggling. I’ve written about this before, and feel compelled to follow up with a couple more recent sordid examples.
When faced with gruesome images of mistreatment of farm animals, rather than simply condemning the cruelty, some in agribusiness just can’t leave it at that. They feel the need also to attack the compassionate investigators who put themselves at great risk to go undercover and blow the whistle on such abuse.
For example, a new Mercy for Animals investigation involved videotaping workers at one of the nation’s largest pork companies throwing piglets by their ears and legs across the room, cramming pigs into cages barely larger than their own bodies for months on end, and even leaving pigs with untreated prolapses, sores and other health problems.
And what’s the response of the president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, Dr. Butch Baker? Quite simply: These types of investigations “really are an attack on the rural lifestyle of America.”
Since when does “rural lifestyle” equate with rampant animal cruelty, and since when did the head of a veterinary trade group (who you’d think would focus on protecting animals) become qualified to comment on such sociological phenomena? It would be interesting to see just how many folks in rural America think a video decrying obvious animal cruelty is really an attack on their lifestyle. Perhaps those in big agribusiness perceive it that way, since cruelty is far more endemic in the meat, egg, and dairy industries than many may think, but alleging that anti-cruelty whistleblowers are somehow victimizing rural Americans would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling.
Another example is the recent Humane Society of the United States investigation into a Vermont dairy calf slaughter plant. The investigator worked as a floor cleaner for a total of 21 days, videotaping days-old calves—some with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—who were kicked, electrically prodded, and in at least one case, even skinned alive.
What’s the response of the exposed plant’s leadership? Rather than accepting blame when caught red-handed, they claimed the investigator actually “provoked” at least some of the abuse by instructing a worker how to act.
Forget about the fact that after reviewing the unedited segment of the video that would show the allegedly “provoked” scene, the Burlington Free Press reported that no such provocation is on the tape. Forget about the fact that the USDA had cited the plant for inhumane handling three times in 2009—and the plant was shut down two of those times—all prior to HSUS’ investigation. Just consider how plausible it would be for a brand new floor cleaner, the lowest person on the totem pole, to somehow have the authority to “instruct” anyone to do anything. And it’s especially absurd when you consider that the co-owner of the plant himself is seen in the video abusing animals with gusto—relentlessly shocking, cursing at, and making fun of calves who were too weak even to stand.
These throwback reactions and denials certainly reflect poorly on agribusiness. But there are more welcome signs—a recognition that the real problem isn’t with the taping of cruelty on factory farms, but with the reality of animal cruelty itself.
Agribusiness industry trade publication Feedstuffs recently editorialized about these investigations conducted by animal organizations. To its credit, the paper’s editorial board didn’t recommend continuation of the current strategy of blaming animal advocates for the abuse they merely document. They in fact wrote: “It’s important to understand that companies and producers can’t just say ‘bad apple’ and move on because—to consumers who have seen these videos again and again—there are no bad apples anymore. The bad apple, to consumers now, is the industry.”
I couldn’t agree more.