I watched a “documentary” today on CBC that was based on an “undercover investigation” by the group Mercy for Animals (MFA). It was an expose on the pig industry and the intensive confinement that is used in pig agriculture. It was graphic, ugly, and portrayed the farmers as heartless animal abusers who are strictly out for a buck. If you are an animal rights group that is against the use of animals for food (which MFA is), it was an incredibly effective tool. If you are the CBC, a nationally funded broadcasting agency paid for by the people, it may not have been quite as effective a story. Tom Kennedy, the investigative reporter, was sent a tailor-made, exclusive to w5 video clip that was taken by an Animal Rights advocate who admitted that his goal is for all people to become vegetarians. The video was shown (I’m not sure how much of the video that was sent to w5 was shown), and the activist was interviewed.
Much of the video was centered around injured pigs, euthanizing piglets by “blunt trauma” and pigs in gestation crates, which severely confine their movement and restrict the behaviour dramatically. The fact is, pig farms are big. All the people who live in cities eat pork. As do all the people who live in towns, and the people who live on dairy farms, chicken farms and guys who produce crops. All these people produce 0% of the pork they need. On the show, there was the obligatory 5 second shot of 5 pigs running around in the mud somewhere (not in the snowy environs outside Winnipeg where the videod farm was). The reality is that pigs do not fare well outside in Canada for 6-8 months of the year….but that’s besides the point.
I’m not here to defend the pork industry….I know more about it than most people, but I am not an expert in pork production, nor have I worked intimately with pork producers for a dozen years or so. I know that the video was sensationalized, and probably consisted of less than 0.01% of the video the activist shot. The bottom line is that some very bad things happened on the farm, some moderately bad things happened on that farm that were able to be edited and shown out of context to be made to look bad, and there are some things that people who are ignorant about agriculture find distasteful, but aren’t inhumane. (Proper euthanasia often falls under this category).
Interestingly, during one of my MSc lectures, a welfare scientist who has often been quoted in activist videos showed another, much older, protest video that he was involved in. His was a cautionary tale (since we were going to be graduating as animal welfare experts), and he was saying how important it was to be extremely careful when commenting on animal welfare for these groups. He was filmed and quoted in several sections of the video in question, and then explained to us what his answers actually were. Once, his answer was complete, but through the magic of editing, the interviewer asked a different question, then inserted his answer, entirely changing the meaning.
The bottom line is, animal activists and protest videos have an agenda. They admit it freely, but it still gets forgotten by the people watching the show. Expert opinions that are offered as support may be accurate, or may not. Remember, the animal rights people want to stop the use of animals. They believe it is immoral to use animals for our benefit. I actually admire activists….they believe in something, and do their best to promote their moral view and spread it. Of course, I also admire Jehovah’s Witness’, for the same reason. I don’t agree with either of them, but admire their committment.
The reality is that farmers give the public what they want. If farmers could sell their pigs for twice as much, and spend twice as much time with half the number of pigs, they would jump at the chance. If the production from 100 pigs could pay for a farmers mortgage and living expenses, that agricultural model would exist. But the proportion of organic pork sold in stores is not increasing. If people are only willing to pay a little more for pork before they switch to beef, chicken or eggs, then farmers need to figure out the most humane way they can produce pork under those constraints. NOBODY can afford to have a job that doesn’t pay the bills….if they do, it’s called a hobby, and they need to have a job on the side.
The fact is, bringing these issues to light are good for the industry, animals, and consumers….if they are taken with a grain of salt. Conservative institutions like agriculture change slowly, and the goad provided by extremists make farmers evaluate what they do, and progresses animal welfare. Letting consumers realize the direction that the economics of food production push production strategies is also helpful. Painting farmers as the cause of the system is like blaming your doctor when you are sick.
Just some thoughts on hidden camera videos. If you keep them in mind the next time you see one of these videos, try to remember that this is the likely distillation of months of video, edited to make it look as bad as possible. If you don’t work in an office, imagine someone with an agenda doing his best to make your workplace look ugly….could it be done? In all honesty, I would HATE for someone to do an undercover video of me parenting my kids….if you take all my worst parenting moments over the past 3 months and make a montage…..just sayin.