Messy Messages: When the Truth Is Labeled a Smear Campaign | Civil Eats

Messy Messages: When the Truth Is Labeled a Smear Campaign

A recent Mercy for Animals (MFA) investigation at New England’s largest egg producer revealed a list of cruelties few people would ever want to witness. Dead hens left to rot in cages with live hens. Birds, wildly flapping, kicked like footballs into manure pits. Cages upon cages of birds crammed so tight they can’t even spread their wings. The list of horrors goes on.

You’d think this would be the kind of obvious animal abuse few people would hesitate to condemn. But what was the agribusiness industry’s response? Unfortunately, more of the same defensive posturing that’s become as predictable as the results of a major league baseball player’s steroid test.

Rather than trying to distance itself from the investigated facility, much of the established ag order went on the attack, with one commentator actually calling MFA’s investigation little more than a “smear campaign.” Can you imagine? Instead of accepting responsibility and trying to find a way animals won’t be treated so horrifically in the future, they simply attack the messenger.

In addition to paradoxically calling videotaped evidence of their own facility a “smear,” the industry is dutifully pointing out that the investigated factory farm passed its recent third-party audit of the United Egg Producers (UEP) with flying colors.

As if that erases the investigation’s findings.

Such assurances bring to memory the fact that the now-infamous California slaughter plant investigated by The Humane Society of the United States for downer abuse had not only passed all its third-party inspections, but was actually awarded by USDA as the school lunch program’s “supplier of the year.”

Even if all of the UEP’s voluntary guidelines were being met, would that ensure a high level of animal welfare? The UEP program allows hens to be confined in battery cages so small that each bird is allotted less space than a sheet of paper on which to live for more than a year before she’s slaughtered. We’re not exactly talking about stringent standards here, needless to say.

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Perhaps even worse, the factory farm released an incredible statement of defense, alleging that the investigator “stood by and videotaped rather than taking care of the birds or doing his job.” Unfortunately for these accusers, the video speaks quite differently. In fact, it shows the investigator complaining to supervisors about the problems, with the response from one bluntly summing it up: “It don’t matter.”

So, the story repeats. Another factory farm is exposed with irrefutable video evidence of heinous abuse, and the industry rushes to redirect attention from its own misdeeds and points the finger elsewhere. In fact, one industry spokesperson is now calling for what she calls a “counter movement” to in order to get “their message” out to the public.

If past is prologue, I don’t think we need to wonder too much what such a “message” will sound like the next time an exposé is announced.

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Paul Shapiro is the senior director of The Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign. Follow him at Read more >

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  1. Christine
    Absolutely disgusting, pathetic, and--as Shapiro eloquently explains-- typical.

    Let's face it, cruelty is inherent in the raising and killing of animals for food.

    What is more, with these so-called third-party auditors(foxes in the henhouse) turning a blind eye to even the most outrageous abuses, you can be sure that the animals you're calling breakfast, lunch or dinner suffered the most wanton cruelty imaginable.

    The only solution for anyone with an iota of morality is clear: GO VEGAN!
  2. Michael B
    It's shocking that egg companies still defend the cruel and inhumane confinement of hens in battery cages. These hens are given less space than a single sheet of paper to live for their entire life.

    The cruelties depicted in the undercover investigation at the egg farm in Maine shows more of the same: suffering and abuse inside battery cage operations.

    The time is now for the egg industry to move away from using battery cages once and for all.
  3. Michelle
    The industry should be ashamed that its standard reply to such exposes of cruelty is to defend what is clearly indefensible. Again and again, the industry has demonstrated that it is utterly incapable of regulating itself.

    Each of us can do our part to help put a stop to this horrific abuse by voting with our wallets--and only buying vegan foods.
  4. Beth
    How many times can people say these investigations are outside the norm? I'm giving veggie burgers a hard second look these days.
  5. Elizabeth
    It's shameful that in the light of stark, video evidence the egg industry won't even admit to the cruelty that is so routine to its operations. Not supporting these kinds of abuses—by not purchasing animal products—is the easiest, most effective way to ensure that we are neither condoning these grotesque practices nor the outright lies used to absolve them.
  6. MFR
    Unfortunately, this farm does not represent an exception -- this farm's practices are the norm in the battery cage egg industry. Check out to learn more.
  7. Jessica
    As if confining hens to battery cages were not enough, now there's irrefutable evidence of dead birds in the cages, workers kicking birds, etc.

    I'm ashamed to say I attend a university that supports these practices with its spending -- but we're working to change it. Visit to help.
  8. The industry does this time and again... provides sub-humane conditions to animals, then denies the animals even that pittance. And when they are caught they cry foul that they were exposed. I've even seen a few sites that claim "doctoring and manipulation" of the film!

    People need to wake up to the truth that abuse is common practice throughout animal agriculture, and that none of it is necessary. We can thrive on a compassionate and healthy plant based diet.
    Go Vegan
  9. Merril Christie
    What a horror story. The Industry is just appalling and has zero accountability. What a world we live in. How can we all condone this and by all I mean those who eat eggs. What will it take to make the industry accountable? Perhaps put each of the fat cats on a sheet of paper for one hour and see if they can stand it. Of course that is ludicrous because we could never make that happen but it is painful to see human beings' cruelty all in the name of greed - both for money and for our tastebuds.

    Sad, sad, sad, sad.

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