Stop Getting Gagged by Animal Ag

by LEE HALL

“Ag-gag” bills—introduced in more than a dozen states and already enacted in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Utah—are reviled for good reason. By prohibiting undercover filming at animal agribusinesses, they impede the free flow of information.

potter

But fighting these bills does not an animal-rights campaign make.

It slants the matter of who will face the police—the deviant animal handler or the one who filmed the deed—but it won’t protect animals.

Internet petitions can proliferate, insisting on our right to images of the worst animal abuses and exhorting  states to prove their largest factory farms have nothing to hide. Yet somebody will always be committing the worst animal abuses as long as animal agribusiness continues. And the slaughter plant that follows the regulations to the letter is still a place of horror.

Where ag-gag laws flounder, people can resume applying for  agribusiness jobs, and continue supplying footage to advocacy groups. That means many years of gory videos ahead of us, lest anyone has not seen enough.

Again, let me be clear: repressing information isn’t good. These laws are overprotective of business owners, and nasty to whistleblowers. But policing the farm is hardly a radical idea; indeed, corporate interests can find something to like in it because criminalizing anything is lucrative. Meanwhile, the investigation role turns activists into components of what they strive to expose, caught up in an endless symbiotic relationship between the farm-watchers and the farms they watch.

The Whole Foods Covenant

While big ag would like to banish pesky videographers in the interest of profit protection, plenty of animal handling and slaughtering benefits from sickening videos. Whole Foods Market jumps to mind. This multinational retailer makes a fortune with its “Animal Welfare Rating” concept and CEO John Mackey has even scored a spot on the Humane Society of the United States Board of Directors. And a pig farmer named Joe Maxwell, hired by the Humane Society to advance the expansion of the “humane” meat market, is one of Whole Foods Market’s suppliers.

At Whole Foods Market, you pay extra to obtain milk from a “happy herd,” buy a turkey from a farmer who promises to cry when slicing the bird’s artery, or carry eggs in a bag proclaiming “Chicks Dig Cage-Free” through aisles festooned with images of salt-of-the-Earth animal suppliers. This corporation benefits from public access to chicksdigshocking agribusiness exposés because it purports to offer the uncruel alternatives, winning praise and PR from the many of the same advocates who finish and release the undercover videos about other suppliers.

Whole Foods’ hogwash nothwithstanding, low-volume farms can be as brutal as their high-volume counterparts. There’s no legally binding definition for cage-free eggs, for example, and stuffing birds into a shed isn’t much better than jamming them into a cage. And even if the supplier is actually using pasture lands, consider the ramifications. Just like suburban development, pasture development eats up land. The happy herders are yet another form of sprawl. (No points for guessing what happens to free-living predators around “Animal Welfare Rating 1” suppliers.)

We can vanquish ag gag lawmaking and happy-meat flackery all at once:  Let’s just stop buying the stuff. Engage the demand side: the power of people to disengage from oppressive systems. It’s completely within our power to withhold our support from animal agribusiness. It might be inconvenient, but it’s the truth: nothing else is going to stop the abuse.

Lee Hall is Legal VP for Friends of Animals, a candidate for Vermont Law School’s LL.M. in environmental law (2014); and the author of On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth (2010). Follow Lee on Twitter:  @Animal_Law. 

Photo of bag by Ginger Burr.

 

Lee Hall is an author of  On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth and several other books and articles on animal rights, a contingent professor of environmental, immigration, and animal law, and a contingent employee of the U.S. Postal Service. Follow Lee on Twitter: @Animal_Law 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?