Like many people, I used to consider animal welfare reform a positive step on the road to animal rights. After all, it would be better if animals weren’t confined to cramped cages, or subjected to torture, while awaiting their slaughter.
The irony, however, didn’t elude me, and I often thought that advocating for such half-measures was like suggesting that the prisoners at Auschwitz should be given mattresses to sleep on; an improvement no doubt, but certainly not an adequate way to deal with the problem. Neither the size of the animals’ cages, nor the mattresses on the prisoners’ beds was the real issue.
Nevertheless, I still felt that better conditions had to be better, so I couldn’t argue against efforts to improve conditions. But recently, something new has developed, which has led me to re-evaluate my thinking.
A few decades ago, the truth of the horrific conditions that exist for ‘food animals’ began to surface in the mainstream media. Shows such as Frontline, Dateline, and 60 Minutes began to show undercover footage of the reality of the animal industry. The horrors of overcrowded conditions, intensive confinement, inadequate stunning procedures and other forms of blatant cruelty began to make people feel less comfortable about animal food. This, in turn, was making things even more uncomfortable for the animal food suppliers.
In light of these developments, it didn’t take long before the animal industry realized that a new strategy was required, in order to assuage the concerns of a consuming public now suddenly aware of the brutality that had previously been hidden behind closed doors.
It now appears that, with the help of public relations experts, the animal food industry executives figured out how to appeal to the specific sector of society who had been moved by these exposés. Recognizing that most people didn’t want to stop eating animal products, but just didn’t want to feel guilty about doing so, they proceeded to set about convincing the public that the companies in question were willing to replace such vile practices with more ‘humane’ methods, albeit one tiny step at a time.
It seems as though part of their strategy was to adopt the very language of animal advocacy. Using words such as ‘humane’, ‘compassionate’ and ‘cruelty-free’, they set out to convince those concerned that the most egregious abuses would be abolished. Free-range eggs, uncrated veal, grass-fed beef… these ‘new and improved’ product lines became the promises they gave to assure the public that the products they were consuming came from animals who were raised and slaughtered ‘humanely’.
These highly-paid public relations firms offered such convincing propaganda, that even those sincerely concerned with the plight of animals were deceived. They too, began to buy into the idea that the issue to focus on was ‘improved treatment’. Playing right into the hands of the exploiters, animal advocates have actually helped to promote the idea that an industry that is inherently cruel could ever become humane.
I believe the meat and dairy industry actually got more than they had intended. Not only did the mainstream public happily accept the manufactured pacification of their guilt, but even former vegetarians have back-pedaled and begun to eat – and even sell – what they refer to as ‘humane meat’. Terms such as free-range, grass-fed, and humanely-raised have not only taken over the dialogue around the animal use debate, but have come to symbolize “it’s okay – you can eat me now”. In a sad twist of irony, many ‘animal people’ themselves have become pawns in the multi-billion-dollar game of animal exploitation.
Some of the most prominent individuals and largest organizations known for speaking on behalf of animals further the acceptance of this lie, even praising the efforts of companies that sell free-range, cage-free or pasture-raised animal products. These supposed friends of animals have publicly congratulated and even awarded those who sell the body parts of slaughtered animals, giving these products their public stamp of approval.
It’s tragic indeed, but the strategy appears to have worked, at least so far. The public has been pacified, and the movement to abolish the exploitation of animals has been fractured into those who continue to work for their freedom and those who work to make the animals more comfortable in their slavery.
The animals with whom we empathize are unceasingly pleading with us. They are not pleading for improved conditions; they are pleading for their lives. It is not the treatment of these animals that is the issue, as horrific as it is. Let us never forget, that as long as these industries continue to exist, the real issue is their unnecessary, systematic and brutal murder.