Spying on Slaughter

Here’s a recent article headlined “Slaughterhouse Says Changes Made” by the Asbury Park Press, based in New Jersey, where the president of Catelli Brothers took “swift action” after an undercover video showed abuse of Holstein veal calves. Anthony Catelli is also quoted reassuring the public that the plant, in operation for 19 years so far, was designed to follow the humane slaughter methods developed by Professor Temple Grandin.
Asbury Park Press 1

Three workers were fired, and eleven new cameras will watch the rest of them. Essentially, all that has changed is who monitors the employees.

“Ag-gag” bills—laws forbidding outsiders from recording workers in animal agribusiness—are receiving some attention because of their serious civil-rights implications. (Harold Brown and I will speak about such bills with criminal justice students at an open event in West Chester, Pennsylvania next week.) Far less noted is how undercover investigations become exposés of grotesque scenes that are, at best, met with a tidying-up of the system at a particular business. That hardly challenges an industry. Deliberate nastiness on the part of employees, after all, does nothing to preserve or augment the owners’ profits.

Moreover, undercover actions to expose abuses in a slaughter plant send the message that there’s nothing inherently abusive in killing. If the law is followed, there’s nothing for activists to find.

Asbury Park Press 2

Another disturbing element involves the process by which the undercover videographer got this imagery. According to this story, the person filming on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States was more than a passive witness to the harrowing scenes recorded. HSUS spokesperson Mary Beth Sweetland says “our investigators do not participate in ill treatment of animals” and that the company, by stating otherwise, is throwing up smokescreens. In either case, HSUS sent an employee into a job at this animal processing plant to obtain images. Direct involvement in the handling and killing of animals can go on for weeks in some undercover projects.

Asbury Park Press 3

What about the people who gathered in a public demonstration outside the slaughter plant? As the photo shows, they’re with a group named NJ Farm Animals Safe.  At least one has a vegan placard. Good. A vegan shift is the only thing that’ll stop the production of Holstein veal calves. Of course, the protesters could be standing in front of countless places like this; a bust doesn’t need to happen for vegan outreach to be done. In any case, thanks to them for displaying the vegan message.

Last winter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended operations at Catelli Brothers for five days after the Humane Society of the United States submitted evidence of violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978, which, originally passed in 1958, was enacted to prevent needless suffering.

Even if it could be enforced throughout the country, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act would have limited scope. The U.S. government and many States regulate the transport and slaughter of mammals in agribusiness, but few if any jurisdictions address breeding and husbandry in all other phases of the animals’ lives.

If, and only if, we stop buying dairy milk and cheese, the suffering stops. Nowadays I can point to vegan cheeses offering any taste or texture people might want, but let’s grow up. Good vegan cheese is a bonus for us. Not a need. And we needn’t be a society of bullies. The death of newborn animals so their parents can keep lactating to fill our breakfast bowAsbury Park Press 4ls is needless suffering.

How does this story conclude? Catelli Brothers was back in business within the week; the USDA closed the file; and since then, Anthony Catelli said, “there have been no issues whatsoever.”

 


Available: An online copy of the newspaper article.

A Dozen Objections to Authentic Vegan Advocacy—Heard Out

Image“Our members are pronounced individualists, not easily scared by criticism, and filled with the spirit of pioneers.” – Donald Watson.

Suddenly this pioneer thing is catching on. Whether for health, for climate justice, or for animals, we’re hearing a lot about famous people going vegan. But do they know what they’re really getting into? Will they be able to face the criticism? Let’s see how scary their mission will be, should they choose to accept it.

Every vegan’s heard this criticism, so it’s first on the list:

1. “You’re a vegan? Fine; just don’t push your views on others.”

Yes, we know. People have the legal right to exploit other animals. Humans have spent centuries writing that into laws, regulations, constitutions, and judicial opinions. And most people, for much of our lives, can and do look away from the hurtful traps our laws create. Our capacity for wishing each other “peace on Earth” while allowing ourselves to be treated as consumers of institutionalized violence is remarkable.

But until vegans press the point, are people ever challenged to acknowledge that the hierarchy is a human creation—that we made it up? Anybody involved in any facet of social progress or justice, would, logically, do well to grapple with the question. (We vegans also make great cupcakes.)

2. “Traditional societies hunt; only modern privileges allow for vegan living.”

I’m for hearing people out. After all, none of us, except perhaps a few vegan-organic growers, can claim to essentially do no harm.

I’d also observe that animal use has been important to just about everyone’s culture and family history.

And some people in indigenous communities (homeless people as well) are vegan.

The significance of an elk’s death to an indigenous community is similar, at essence, to the importance of the body of a turkey (complete with its age- and gender-specific stuffing and carving customs, prayers and toasts) in an affluent suburb. Every one of us has a history flowing back through ancestors who, at some critical time, decided that their safety depended on subduing other animals, and our forebears killed off large carnivores en masse. Natural resources managers are still doing it.

We are all in this ethical question together: Is the group of primates known as Homo sapiens entitled to keep killing, or else dominating, selectively breeding, using and consuming the rest of the planet’s inhabitants?

3.  “People aren’t all going to go vegan, so why not get them to make some changes?”

What changes are they making? Do their baby steps allow companies to sustain animal agribusinesses through greenwash (or hogwash)? Cartons of organic milk are now adorned with pictures of farmers embracing their cows. And shoppers think they’re doing a good deed, given that these cartons look nothing like the latest undercover video at this or that horrible supplier, and they buy into the humane myth. 

The current issue of Rolling Stone reveals “the price we pay for cheap meat.” A professional advocacy spokesperson quoted in the article says investigators of factory handling and slaughter aren’t “trying to end meat or start a panic. But there’s a decent way to raise animals for food, and this is the farthest thing from it.”

Although advocates might hope some readers will consider going vegan because of the hideous corporate animal abuse they saw in the Rolling Stone, here’s what will most likely occur:

  • Some readers will donate to the advocacy group they noticed in Rolling Stone.
  • Husbandry standards may ultimately change because of the outcry. With dubious effect. After all, regulation has been going on since Upton Sinclair published The Jungle.
  • Those “decent” sources of animal products will advertise themselves and profit accordingly.
  • Husbandry adjustments will, problematically, be equated with animal advocacy the world over.

Admittedly, the vast scale of animal use can be overwhelming. Anxiety might lead us to ask whether pressing for industry reforms is the best we can do. But whether reforms are granted or not, suffering isn’t reduced when animals are unnecessarily bred or brought into an exploitive system.

Let’s be clear: Vegans wouldn’t disapprove of true husbandry improvements, if and where they might be possible. And in the human-rights sphere, it’s acceptable for serious activists to pursue reforms. For instance, prison abolitionist Angela Davis has stated that reforms are also necessary.

But in the case of animal agribusiness, ordinary food shoppers hold the prison keys. By divesting our kitchens from the system that commodifies other animals, and encouraging others to do so, we exercise direct power to spare animals from being brought into that commodified existence.

4.  “Won’t supporting both veganism and industrial concessions help us go further than we would if we said only one is worthwhile?”

The wealthy animal-protection charities will keep working with corporations for concessions no matter what we do. The big charities support the use of animals in human society, as long as some minimum standards of treatment are established. The people who are expected to propose these standards will get hired, and will produce them.

Jobs abound for those who promote state-of-the-art slaughter techniques or roomier sheds, but this will not raise the status of animals. It won’t enable us or free-living animals to survive on this precious planet.

The lure of compromise can be turned around—to start a conversation about why it takes so long for us Homo sapiens to give up our privileges, even the ones that are bad for us and that we could stop indulging in today.

5.  “Aren’t vegans anti-social scolds?”

Some might be born contrarians, but most vegans are socially engaged and learning from others every day. We tend to notice the red lights more than the green.

Some of the most helpful people I’ve met out hiking, for example, are vegans. They will speak their minds when necessary; yet they are, I’m glad to report, invariably quick to show to kindness to others of various experiences and opinions. To be vegan is to experience the pleasure of looking after our health, the planet, and every conscious being alive. Sure, there will always be a few people who mischaracterize social haters gonna hatemovements. Expect resistance, and stay kind.

6. “Your impossible standards are making it worse for animals.”

Ouch. Here’s the heavy artillery that comes out when we ask for accountability from a group that’s bargaining away other animals’ most basic interests. No: vegans make nothing worse for animals. Vegans live as though animal rights were a reality right now, and thereby bring animal rights into existence (enacting the central point of Gandhi’s famous recommendation that we ourselves be the change we wish to see in society).

In fact, just being vegan (not counting the talks, writing, rescuing, and public demonstrations or performances many vegans additionally carry out) makes a significant difference.

In a somewhat less accusatory appeal, some will insist, “If I were one of the animals involved, I would want this [bigger stall, better slaughter method, etc.].”  Now, surely it’s fair and logical to say the animals would not want to be slaughtered at all. We know they’d try to avoid being harmed; it’s manifestly obvious. By extension, it seems logical and fair to say on behalf of other animals that they would appreciate vegan campaigning—that is, they’d appreciate our not consuming them. Not agreeing to victimize them in any way. But to suggest that we are speaking for other animals when we compromise their interests (and in reality animals cannot come to the meetings to represent themselves) is troubling.

And as we know, wolves, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and others get killed to protect live animals in sprawling commerce—so we can’t limit the argument to what the given cow or chicken would say. What about the other animals who are pushed out of the way for the less concentrated, more  “humane” farming businesses? What would they want?

7. “Our event should be vegan? Oh, right. If you want to be some kind of ivory-tower idealist who makes the movement as small as possible.”

This one might be based on an intuition that excluding people is unwise. Yet insofar as it suggests that vegans aren’t offering a viable movement (or even helpful event planning), it frames vegan values as outlandish—and that’s a kind of exclusion too.

Granted, the advocate usually needs to cultivate allies in advance of suggesting vegan events. But even if you’re on your own, or one of a small group, preparing and passing out delicious desserts goes a long way. Good cooks are rarely mistaken for killjoys. (I’m serious about the cupcakes.)

8. “Vegans harm animals too.”  

Right. The gentlest gardener will likely displace some animals. When our homes were constructed, many mice and other small animals lost their spaces. Bike components and book glues are not always vegan; the list is long. It’s sensible to acknowledge this, but it doesn’t mean we all need to continue allowing the selective breeding and training and breaking and buying and selling and eating of animals.

Being vegan means we strive as diligently as possible to avoid harming and manipulating conscious life, and we do the best we can to ensure other living beings are enabled to thrive in their ways.

9. “You just don’t understand business.”  

Good try. No one understands business better than those who’ve soberly assessed corporate conduct and figured out that compromises will be rejected or co-opted according to how the shareholders’ return can be maximized.

Nor is it true that higher prices for animal products leads in the direction of animal rights. It leads to people seeing animal products as desirable items, even if fewer animals are sold.

We can’t know how many people are steered away from vegan living if they can obtain “humane” or “local” products (here we might recall our own journeys and the questions we asked: Do fish who swim freely suffer so badly? Is eating eggs better if I look for the free-range brand?).

When we resolve to simply opt out, we help liberate our culture from its psychological ties to animal use. This is entirely practical. On a planet of limited land and water, humanity breeds so many animals into existence as food and usurps so much arable land for animal feed that the free-living animals are pushed to the margins of the land and biodiversity is ruined. But through vegan movements, such as vegan-organic farming, we’re proposing a simpler, more sustainable, decentralized and life-affirming future for human and non-human beings alike.

10. “How popular will your materials be if you insist on promoting them as vegan?”

Just as some people avoid creating a vegan event because they genuinely think people won’t come, some vegan starter guides don’t use the word “vegan” and some people say “veg” or write veg*n—inching the word “vegan” back to a less specific vegetarian idea. Here’s a badge using the globally known vegan sunflower trademark—and imposing an asterisk on it. v[asterisk]ganism

It’s an understandable attempt at all-inclusive friendliness for an environmental cause. But applying the term vegan with the “a” blotted out, so that it becomes merely a short form of vegetarian, blurs some key points.

Figures applicable to the United States show that each vegan spares the atmosphere an equivalent of greenhouse gas emitted from 8,100 miles driven annually. Yes, go vegan and it’s like not driving your car more than 8,000 miles each year. Simply changing from some animal products to others won’t do this. Fish production goes right up with the flesh of cows to top the list of highest possible all-around energy uses. And milk products are derived from ruminant animals, who emit high amounts of methane—an especially potent greenhouse gas.

It’s important to prevent veganism from appearing as an optional variation within some apparently more popular position. Respecting the environment—just like respecting ethical principles—means more than cutting out steak and hamburgers. So the simple, powerful word vegan is more important than it’s ever been. It already respects vegetarian ideals: Taken from the first and last letters of the word, it brings vegetarian to its logical conclusion.

Grocers, restaurateurs, and ranchers claiming to sell humane animal products frequently attempt to sponsor rescue-related, vegetarian, and green events. Whole Foods Market has honed this into a major marketing technique. Animal-rights ideas get pushed aside as advocates sit down to business and give concession agreements their full and immediate attention. Then they call attention to their influence, and call the conscientious objector’s holdout stance divisive because, in effect, it’s not the view of the majority of society. Well, let’s face it: People who renounce dominion over other animals are outside the majority.  We regard a viable movement for a new ethic as having to resist the majority’s hydraulic pull. We can expect part of our work to involve persuading potential compromisers to commit instead to conscientious objection.

If we are not living according to the vegan principle and imparting to others this same principle, veganism doesn’t exist.  Objections will be many, and people will try to dilute the vegan principle and blur the word. Yet our example is generally accepted by the animal-advocacy community as positive, without drawbacks of any sort, except that it’s thought by some to be a slow approach. Although it might be slow, a lot of things are; and respect for animals clearly advances when people “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

11. “It’s just too hard to be vegan.”

Given all that’s going on in climate science and ethics studies, I think we’re swimming with the tide—but yes, we’re swimming faster, and that takes stamina.

Yet I find it is easier for me to be vegan than not. My mind can rest easy at night. I used to be one of the humans who exerted dominion over other animals, but I no longer have to maintain that worldview. I can walk along the streams and through the woods knowing a real peace with other beings. I find it a wonderful relief to understand myself as a simple co-worker in this planet’s life and story.

12. “Come on, how can we possibly get up in the morning, with the human population growing daily by more than 211,000 people, drones flying, governments spying, polar bears drowning, 100 million people people living in the streets, and think this vegan stuff is going to work?”

Good question. The symbolic Doomsday Clock, maintained since 1947 through the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to represent minutes to the midnight of our destruction, weighs threats posed by nuclear weapons, new developments in life sciences, and climate change. It was first set at seven minutes before midnight, and as of this writing is set at five minutes to midnight. The clock can be, and has been, set back in time, too—in response to political decisions humans have made. The message? Human-induced global warming and war are no accidents. Nor are they foisted upon us by nature, fate, or God. They are the results of human decisions. As long as we’re here, we can decide in new ways, and help offer that power to others—balancing our sober discussions with good news, enjoyable walks and teas and great recipes, a sense of generosity and joy in being alive.

Cormac Cullinan, author of the book Wild Law, offers a sound reason to be optimistic about the future of human law and culture. Proposing it’s entirely possible to have ecologically respectful law, Cullinan reminds us of the paradigm shift; the term, as Thomas Kuhn introduced it in the 1960s, means a transformation in the scientific worldview. Consider the Copernican revolution: When it became clear that our planet revolves around the sun, we ceased to be the focal point of creation. What had once seemed obvious and eternal was something else entirely: an error of the past. Humanity’s perspective changed.

Likewise, the vegan principle challenges an old view that we’re central and that everyone and everything revolves, eternally, around us. Environmentalists have discovered how incorrect the all-for-us view is, from a biological perspective. Earthworms and bees and other supposedly insignificant beings are now understood as enormously influential in the bio-community.

Meanwhile, vegan advocates assert that all are entitled to live on their own terms, bees and earthworms included.

Note that the Copernican revolution wasn’t the result of change in increments to the old system. No one was asked to accept that the sun was a little closer to the central point over time. Astronomy charts didn’t show Earth moving gradually outward as new editions were printed. So let’s not say, “Well, OK, start with eggs from hens who were given more room.” No quest for a “decent way to raise animals for food” is necessary when each of us, and everyone we meet, has the power to commit to vegan principles right now. There is a bright-line psychological difference, and not a continuum, between accepting human dominion and rejecting it.

Vegans reject human dominion. It’s a radical idea; a paradigm shift is radical by definition. It will not happen overnight, and it will be met with resistance (Galileo’s books were banned, and the great scientist was placed under house arrest for having accepted the position of Copernicus, which was deemed contrary to biblical authority). But the cultural shift, once the new paradigm is presented and acknowledged, is unstoppable.

We don’t know the tipping point; it could be a small number of people who are working on a problem now, and the next generation could be the one for which everything falls into place. And that’s good. By most indications, we have little time to spare.

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Question marks: Oberazzi, on Flickr. Bee photographed by Steb1, published on Flickr. The source of information on food miles and emissions for this article is the study of greenhouse gas emissions by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews,“Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” – 42 Environmental Science Technology, at 3508-13 (2008). High impacts of fish commerce was noted by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin (2006). Thanks to Victoria Hart for the term authentic vegan

Our Privilege to Look

A link going around Facebook is asking:

Should animal advocates use graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help animals?

And come to  think about it, that’s mainly what one sees in animal advocacy: graphic images of animals suffering or cute pictures of happy animals.

Meanwhile, in real life, animals are doing much more than suffering and being cute. In their countless and varied communities, they lead lives of infinite richness.

Consider the “simple techniques” question, posed by someone in another area of social justice. By way of illustration, imagine someone in an immigration advocacy group asking:

Should refugee advocates use graphic images of refugees suffering or cute pictures of happy refugees to get their message across? What simple techniques make people twice as likely to donate money or volunteer their time to help refugees?

When I worked in migrant advocacy, I noticed a photo of the same emaciated child and mother on various fundraising websites. Refugees and asylum-seekers live and move in many roles. They might be homeless; they might be teaching international law. How do they feel when seeing refugees portrayed over and over as mouths to feed, while the fundraising campaigners who use the images have no idea what their lives are like or what their talents are?

Maybe the child and mother whose faces keep appearing, if they are alive somewhere today, are highly skilled people; in any case, these refugees are more than their victimhood.

I’ll get back to the “cute pictures of happy animals” in a later post. But real quick: For an advocacy group or sanctuary to depend on baby-faced animals to solicit funds parallels the conduct of zoos. Circuses, commercials and comedy hours often show chimpanzees smiling, though the smile on the chimpanzee’s face is a signal of fear. Pandas’ big eyes are there not to attract human caregivers; rather, as George B. Schaller writes:

The eye patches enlarge the panda’s small, dark eyes tenfold, making the stare more potent. In addition, a staring panda often holds its neck low, a position that not only presents the eye patches to an opponent but also outlines the black ears against the white neck, in effect presenting two pairs of threatening eyes. Conversely, to show lack of aggressive intent, a panda averts its head, covers the eye patches with its paws, or hides its face…

In other words, pictures that signal vulnerability, whether intended to raise funds or to move people to join a campaign, may inadvertently defy reality and respect for beings, or whole groups of beings, who are represented as helpless, perpetually needing rescue.

MasksThe “simple techniques” for drawing donors and supporters involve short-cutting: The animal advocate who uses shocking pictures and employs emotional words that require no thought (a high percentage of alerts include “cruel” or “horrific” or “barbaric”) can get by with limited understanding of ethical, environmental or political issues. That can be convenient when membership drives, a petition full of signatures, or fundraising take over as goals. It can also fail to respect the audience, and fail to accord genuine respect for the individual or population with interests at stake.

Even the gentlest, most painstaking and studious advocacy films interpret others’ lives through the camera’s lens. Often, the photographer or videographer was a passive witness to a harrowing event, infusing a disturbing element to the very process of obtaining the imagery.

Watching animals is normal for us. We were carefully and frequently taught as children to regard other animals as spectacles. So it takes a conscious awareness to question our privilege to look, and our prerogative to do what we like with the images.

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Online Pet Sales, Facilitated by the Humane Society of the United States

Welcome to Vegan Place. You’re reading the best entry ever posted here.

Mind you, I wanted Vegan Place’s opening entry to be uplifting, encouraging, and beautiful. But it is not. Because this morning, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States dropped a heap of disgraceful words about the group’s latest “victory” into my in-box. Well, something needs to be said about that. As in: If this is a humane “victory” what do the defeats look like?

Here’s the e-mail. The bold highlighting is there in the original. And here’s my bold highlighting: This is the codification of online mass pet retailing. 

September 10, 2013

Dear Friend,

I have a huge victory to share with you! After years of pressure from The HSUS, and hundreds of thousands of emails and support from advocates like you, online puppy mills will finally be subject to federal inspections and oversight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans today to ensure that large-scale breeding facilities that sell puppies over the Internet, by phone, or by mail are licensed and inspected regularly for basic humane care standards. This rule will also apply to large commercial breeders of other warm-blooded pets, such as kittens and small mammals.

We are so grateful for the actions of our advocates. When we stand together, we can make a tremendous difference for animals on a national level.

Thank you for all you do for animals,

Wayne Pacelle, President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States

I went to Wayne Pacelle’s blog, which posted the announcement today. Pacelle explains that the new administrative rule is “a long-held aspiration for The HSUS, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Doris Day Animal League”–groups that have got the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general to review enforcement of the rules governing dog breeding, and that found “this glaring gap in the law that allowed Internet sellers to evade any federal oversight whatever.”

Pacelle goes on to thank the Obama administration, the “strong bipartisan support in Congress for closing the `Internet loophole` in the Animal Welfare Act regulations”, and the USDA, which will assign people to license (yes) and inspect the animal vendors.

The very same USDA, as Dissident Voice founder Sunil Sharma observes, “whose `inspectors` regularly visit factory farms and report nothing wrong.”

Pacelle justifies this codification project with one of the most tired old chants: “Puppy mills aren’t going away overnight…”

Of course not, if the world’s most influential humane-treatment group makes a campaign out of codifying them. The HSUS hereby marks its role as the federal regulatory regime for online retail animal sales is rolled out, and declares its key position in deciding who in the industry is not carrying out the sales according to that regulatory regime.

The establishment of the industry-regulating role will be followed by the correlative industry-policing role. Thus, administrative regimes are created with the help of the humane-treatment sector and they beget more jobs in the humane-standards field–an industry upon an industry. University classes are now being created and offered to prepare students for roles in refining animal breeding, use and handling. To say their aspirations to a humane, sustainable ideal amount to a lot of fairy dust would be to understate the actual harms done when the exploitation of animal life is continually hardened into the system of administrative law and custom.

It’s a gorgeous day, the moon has already risen, and I need a run. Thank you for reading. In later posts I’ll try, in the famous words of Harold Chasen’s mother, to be a little more vivacious.

Harold, please

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