Does “Opting Out” Really Work?

Yes, I believe it does.

Here’s my logic:

1. I become aware that nearly all meat is produced using a factory farm model.

2. I decide that I disagree with this model.

3. I no longer purchase or consume products produced using the factory farm model.

4. Instead, I seek out respectfully produced animal products from people or places that I trust.

Why does this work? It works because we live in a country where you can vote with your dollars. You can purchase one thing instead of another and that lets businesses know what they should produce (or that they should get out of business). By not purchasing meat from “Big Meat” I’m letting them know that I won’t participate in their “system.” I guess it’s more about telling Big Meat to get out of business than it is about telling them what they should produce. You see, Big Meat is the antithesis of the fair farming future I envision. There’s no room in humane sustainable agriculture for a corporation that places profits over people nearly every time.


What Do We Value?

I updated my last post with a link to this article by the Des Moines Register about the “ag-gag” bill proposed in Iowa that would make people who photograph or record video inside a factory farm operation without the owner’s express consent face jail time. It’s a move by the factory farm animal industry to keep activists and the public out of their business.

The industry thinks the animal activists are threatening their business model (i.e. factory farming or CAFOs) by making edited video that casts the operation in a bad light; perhaps even provoking the behavior seen in the videos. I have to respect the possibility that the videos were deliberately edited to cast the facility in a bad light. This has happened in politics (James O’Keefe) and it certainly could happen in any industry as well.

However…it’s really tough to make this argument with the undercover videos that have been released. How do you edit footage showing sows (female pigs) being confined to gestation crates? How do you edit footage depicting egg laying hens crammed into tiny battery cages? How do you edit footage showing thousands of cows standing in their own manure on a feedlot? How do you edit footage depicting force feeding ducks to make foie gras ? How do you edit what is normal practice?

One specific passage in the Des Moines Register article by Jason Clayworth and William Petroski interested me. According to the article, Senator Tom Rielly’s (D-Oskaloosa) position on the bill was this:

Rielly said one of his primary reasons for supporting the legislation is soaring food costs. If animal rights activists succeed in changing large-scale animal food production practices in Iowa, people could see their food prices rise dramatically, he said.”

Is that all we the people of the United States care about when it comes to food production? How cheap it is? The average American spends 10% of their income on food (see this video). This article on Civil Eats shows proposes Americans spend as little as 7% of their income on food. This is unheard of in the history of humanity. Russians spend 28% of their income on food, South Africans spend 19.8%, Chinese spend 32.9% according to the aforementioned article.

I think what the industry and legislators are saying is, “We don’t want to reform animal agricultural practices because we’ll have to spend more money on humanely raised food and have less money line to corporate pockets and people won’t be able to buy that brand new high tech thing they don’t need.
I believe we’re better than this. I believe the industry needs to be drastically reformed at the very least…despite the increased costs. We need to assign value to the right things. I think treating the animals we eat with respect until the day we slaughter them (humanely of course) is of high value. Certainly higher than corporate profits at any cost. What do you think? Are you happy with the industry status quo? Or do you want something better? Do you think cheap food trumps treating animals with respect and creating local sustainable small scale humane farm economies? Do you like the idea that the big agriculture business reduces everything to cheapness?

I’ll let you mull on that.

What Are Factory Farms Hiding?

I live in Iowa. A bill (HF 589) recently passed  the state House of Representatives (it has yet to pass the Senate) that would make it a criminal offense to document animal cruelty using audiovisual equipment without the owner of the animal facility’s permission. And do you really think the owner is going to let someone videotape their facility? The most likely answer is a resounding NO.

Here are the interesting bits of language in the bill (all language following below has been condensed for ease of reading):

“A person is guilty of animal facility interference, if…the person acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility to willfully do any of the following: (1) Produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the facility as follows: (a) The record must be created by the person while at the animal facility. (b) The record must be a reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium. (2) Possess or distribute a record which produces and image or sound occurring at the animal facility which was produced as provided in subparagraph (1).”

What are the penalties?

“For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor. (b.) For a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class ‘D’ felony.”

What else does it say?

“1. A person is guilty of animal facility fraud, if the person willfully does any of the following: (a.) Obtains access to an animal facility by false pretenses for the purpose of committing an act not authorized by the owner of the animal facility.”

This means an undercover investigation of animal cruelty would be illegal.

You can read the bill for yourself in its entirely here.

I want you to ask yourself, “why would a factory farm want to make it a crime to record video or audio of their facility?” We have to be honest with ourselves…it means they’re doing something they don’t want YOU to find out about. They want to do things behind closed doors without public scrutiny. What does that tell you about the way their operation functions…if we saw the truth we might not want to eat food that was produced using the factory farm model. I don’t think we should, what do you think?

Assignment: I’d like you to watch the video below. There are some graphic images in the video. Paul McCartney makes the point that after viewing the video you should be compelled to be a vegetarian. I understand that is a reasonable conclusion given the cruelty depicted. However, I don’t believe everyone should be vegetarian. Rather, meat and animal products should have a supporting role in our diets. When the meat is produced on small local family farms then these cruelties disappear. Remember, what you are about to see is what the factory farm industry wants to hide from consumers.

Bonus Assignment: If you live in Iowa, please contact your state Senator and request they do not vote for this bill and actively work to ensure it does not pass. The bill is known as SF 431 in the Senate.

*UPDATE: — The Des Moines Register reports the Senate is rewriting the bill to include provisions that would “require employees or people who trespass on agriculture premises and record a crime of animal abuse to turn over to authorities all recordings – both originals and copies – within 72 hours. If they fail to do so, they could not claim whistle-blower protections and would face possible criminal charges resulting in up to 30 days in jail.”

This article is very telling of our food climate and I will be writing about portions that I found interesting soon!