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Rising Anxieties: Why Animal Agriculture is So Scared

By Mariann Sullivan — February 21, 2014

screamAt the moment, there are two kinds of people in the United States who really know what’s going on behind closed doors in animal agriculture.

There’s us – the animal rights activists. We avidly read the articles about the latest undercover investigation, earnestly discuss corporate campaigns to phase out gestation crates for breeding sows, and swap stories about which website has the best (i.e., worst) footage of battery cages.

The others who know what’s really going on are, of  course, the folks in the industry itself.

So, what about everyone else? While animal activists may moan and complain about what seems to be the continuing willingness of all those people to turn a blind eye, the fact is that all signs indicate that the industry is terrified – absolutely freaked out – that the truth is starting to emerge.

As I’m sure is the case for many Our Hen House readers, that truth seems completely obvious to me. Since I hang out with animal activists all the time, I live in somewhat of a bubble – a bubble in which everyone knows what’s happening to animals, and is rightfully horrified. When you live in this bubble, you can’t help but wonder why, when it’s so obvious that there is so much suffering in animal agriculture, don’t more people start changing their diets? Do most people truly not care about animals?

No – that just doesn’t seem right. Though there are plenty of exceptions, most people seem to adore animals. They understand a lot about them, too. They are fully aware that animals – including pigs, chickens, and cows – are emotional, funny, smart, and lovely. And most people don’t want to cause them unnecessary harm. So, what is going on?

Then I remember this: As unlikely as it may seem, the reason that the vast majority of society still consumes animals, is actually because – bubble aside – most of them still don’t know what’s going on out there. Even otherwise intelligent, sophisticated, thoughtful people are frequently alarmingly naïve about the suffering of animals in animal agriculture. EVEN AFTER WE’VE TOLD THEM!

scream2It’s incredibly frustrating to realize this, because there’s no question that a lot of these folks are in the dark because they refuse to face the truth. People are incredibly good at seeing only what they want to see, and they definitely don’t want to see factory farms. While, I know, this makes us all want to tear our hair out, we should remember that it’s the very fact of this ignorance that provides room for hope.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “No lie can live forever.” And when you look around and see how scared the industry is that the truth is starting to seep into people’s awareness, you can’t help but feel hopeful.

How do we know the industry is scared? It’s actually pretty easy to figure out, because they’re not shy about yammering on about it. There are plenty of websites featuring blog after blog, and commentary after commentary, about things that are of concern to folks in the industry – and when they are not talking about salmonella or E. Coli, mostly what they are talking about is you – and me.

It was this realization that made Jasmin and me come up with the idea, in one of our weekly brainstorming sessions on what to talk about on our upcoming podcast episode, to start discussing some of the articles we were reading on industry websites. Because the fact is that – while 5 years ago the animal rights movement was a nonentity to these folks, something that they completely ignored – we are now their obsession.

The name for this segment of the podcast (which, if I do say so myself, came to us in a flash of brilliance) is, of course, “Rising Anxieties” (always introduced on our show with a blood-curdling scream).

Oh, they’re not admitting that they’re scared – it’s true. But their terror is coming through loud and clear anyway.

scream3What makes us so sure?

One of the most obvious reasons is that they are blatantly dishonest about what’s really happening to animals – in fact, they are dishonest about it even to themselves. For example, according to Scott Hurd (who calls himself “The Gentle Vet” – you absolutely can’t make this stuff up), “Obviously, morality matters. It is wrong, unethical, and immoral to make animals suffer needlessly. Most farmers are not doing that. They button these animals down in cozy heated buildings with high ventilation and lots of fresh water.”

Cozy? Really? I guess that’s one word for it…

Another tell tale sign is their constant proclamation that they are defending “farmers,” as if there were no way to differentiate between the farmers who grow fruits and vegetables (we love them!), and the people who build CAFOS (not so much).

One of my personal favorite themes is the “vegan agenda,” i.e., the argument that animal advocates have a deep, dark secret: that we may pretend to care about animal “welfare,” but we really only care about turning people vegan (cue spooky music). In fact, the industry is playing that particular tune louder and louder every day. Clearly, they think that this is going to scare people off – that folks will think, “Oh my gosh, these animal activists are secretly going to turn the world vegan, and, heavens to Betsy, I don’t want to be turned into a vegan against my will!”

Thus, the Pork Network points out that Meatless Monday is “not just a grassroots effort to celebrate healthy eating, but a well-funded radical initiative pushing an extreme animal rights and environmental agenda. While the public may be mislead (sic) by its clever marketing and celebrity endorsements, the agriculture community should be aware that the campaign promotes false claims about the animal agriculture industry with the ultimate goal of eliminating meat consumption, and therefore, consumer choice.” Wow. If only.

Or Emily Meredith, who writes the “Activist Watcher” blog (no, seriously!) on MeatingPlace (I swear, that’s what it’s really called), has this to say: “HSUS, PETA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing and others aren’t in the animal welfare business. They’re in the vegan world business (and I guess the undercover video business, too) – no matter what they say.” (Actually most of these groups are pretty open about being in the vegan world business. As are we. In fact, I think I’ll put it on my business card.)

The ScreamBelieve me, this is an industry that will stop at nothing. A while back, North Carolina’s meat industry opposed a puppy mill bill which “the Humane Society of the United States and its vegan president say is meant to protect puppies, warning instead that it is the first step toward ending meat eating as we know it.”

Of course, convincing anyone that they will be turned into a vegan against their will is a hard sell. Most reasonably informed people know that a lot of animal advocacy groups are enthusiastic about veganism. And the reasonably sane ones also know that the one to two percent of the country that identifies as vegan is not really in a position to force everyone else to join them. (More’s the pity, perhaps, but let’s be realistic. Even if vegans were a majority, and even if we thought that forcing people to adopt veganism against their will was an effective tactic, we probably couldn’t pull it off.)

The real problem for animal agriculture is that most people also believe that treating animals cruelly is bad. Though they may not identify as vegan, they probably already believe that paying more for animal foods might be worth it if it means the animals wouldn’t be treated horribly. And in spite of the fact that they don’t want to know, and are doing everything they can to avoid knowing, they are starting to realize exactly how horribly the animals are treated. We are doing our job, and it’s starting to have an effect.

And, if you want to know industry’s really big problem, it’s that people can always eat something else if animal foods become too expensive. In fact, more and more people know that those other foods are getting better and better, and are a lot healthier than their animal-based counterparts. The fact is, those other foods are starting to fly off the shelves of supermarkets around the country! This is precisely what the industry is truly frightened of. Not that the public’s choices will be taken away, but that when people become informed, and therefore actually have a choice between participating in horrific cruelty or eating Beyond Meat, or Tofurky, or Field Roast or Gardein, not to mention fruits and vegetables, or Candle 79’s Seitan Piccata, or PB&J, or about a million other delicious things, the choice is going to be all too easy.

It’s all coming together. As the truth comes out, improvements are demanded. As a result, the price goes up, so, inevitably, the competition gets stiffer. As vegan products scale up, they get cheaper per unit. As they get cheaper, more people try them and find out they’re delish. And, thus, an industry that once thought it was invincible continues to lose market share. It is this very problem that is causing all the anxiety.

They see the writing on the wall, and it says “plants.” 

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. wayneaw
    February 22, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Animal agriculture is scared and the more truth that comes to light, the more they try to keep it hidden. But that strategy is backfiring thanks to the undercover investigations that they are trying so hard to suppress. My bubble consists mostly of non-vegans and now they're sharing the latest investigation news with me and asking about more humane food options. Knowledge is power! ps: I tell people that I became vegan because I love animals and love telling people how to live their lives. ;) pps: I totally liked this on Facebook.

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