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Matthew Scully op-ed on the Humane Farms initiative (AZ Republic)

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  • Kari Nienstedt
    http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/articles/0219scully0219.html A sunless hell Confronting the cruel facts of factory-farmed meat Matthew
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2006
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      A sunless hell
      Confronting the cruel facts of factory-farmed meat

      Matthew Scully
      Special for the Republic
      Feb. 19, 2006 12:00 AM

      Arizona voters will be asked this fall to weigh in on a ballot
      measure called the Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act, which is
      now in the signature-gathering stage but, by November, is certain to
      be one of our livelier election-year debates.

      The initiative, modeled on a reform passed by Florida voters, would
      prohibit the factory-farming practice of confining pigs and veal
      calves in crates so small that the animals cannot even turn around
      or extend their limbs.

      Factory farming, in general, is no one's favorite subject, and the
      details here are particularly unpleasant to think about: masses of
      creatures enduring lives of unrelieved confinement and deprivation.
      But if you're in need of reasons to sign the petitions and vote for
      the initiative, they are easy to find, and our discomfort with the
      subject is a good place to start.

      Known in the trade as "intensive confinement" or "mass confinement,"
      it sounds pretty rough. And as we're seeing already, pork producers
      and the PR firms in their hire do not take well to criticism of what
      they regard as "standard practice."

      Just this month, the industry's allies in the Arizona Legislature
      proposed a constitutional amendment to bar the public from passing
      any laws promoting the humane treatment of farm animals, effective
      Jan. 1, 2006. Nice to have a fallback position: Even if the humane-
      farming initiative passes by vote of the people, as industry
      lobbyists apparently fear it will, they plan to nullify the law

      Basically, pork producers figured out some years ago that if they
      packed the maximum number of pigs into the minimum amount of space,
      if they pinned the creatures down into fit-to-size iron crates above
      slatted floors and carved out giant "lagoons" to contain the manure -
      if they turned the "farm," in short, into a sunless hell of metal
      and concrete - it made everything so much more efficient. An obvious
      cost-saver, and from the industry's standpoint, that should settle
      the matter.

      Veal, by definition, is the product of a sick, anemic, deliberately
      malnourished calf, a newborn dragged away from his mother in the
      first hours of life. Veal calves are dealt the harshest of
      punishments for the least essential of meats. And if you think
      people can get too sentimental about animals, try listening sometime
      to chefs and gourmands going on about the "velvety smooth
      succulence" of their favorite fare.

      "Cost-saver" in industrial livestock agriculture may usually be
      taken to mean "moral shortcut." For all of its "science-based"
      pretensions, factory farming is really just an elaborate, endless
      series of evasions from the most elementary duties of honest animal
      husbandry. Man, the rationalizing creature, can justify just about
      anything when there is money in sight. It's only easier when your
      victims are so completely out of sight and unable to speak for

      Over the years, one miserly deprivation led to another, ever harsher
      methods were applied to force costs lower and lower, and so on until
      the animals ceased to be understood as living creatures at all.
      Pigs, for example, aren't even "raised" anymore, a term that once
      conveyed some human attention and care. These days, in America's
      395,000-kills-per-day pork industry, pigs are "grown," crowded
      together by the hundreds in the automated, scientifically based
      intensive-confinement facilities formerly known as barns.

      Unlike the old ways

      To the factory farmer, in contrast to the traditional farmer with
      his sense of honor and obligation, the animals are "production
      units," and accorded all the sympathy that term suggests. As
      conservative commentator Fred Barnes put it in the Wall Street
      Journal, "On the old family farms, pigs and cattle and chickens were
      raised for food, but they were free for a time; they mated, raised
      piglets, calves and chicks and were protected by the farmers . . . .
      They had a life. On industrial farms, they don't."

      Among the more disreputable claims made to justify intensive
      confinement is that it's actually for the benefit of the pigs.
      They "prefer" confinement to grazing outdoors. They
      need "protection" from each other's aggression.

      If you know absolutely nothing about pigs, this has a vaguely
      comforting ring to it - that is, until the moment you step into a
      factory farm, as I have had occasion to do. Inside, it becomes
      dramatically obvious that their ceaseless, merciless confinement is
      the cause of the pigs' aggression, and by no stretch a protective
      measure. It turns out that when you trap intelligent, 400- to 500-
      pound mammals in gestation crates 22 inches wide and 7 feet long,
      when their limbs are broken from trying to turn or escape and they
      are covered in sores, blood, tumors, "pus pockets," and their own
      urine and excrement, they tend to act up a bit.

      Indeed, the most notable thing is how the appearance of any human
      being causes a violent panic. A mere opening of the door brings on a
      horrific wave of roars, squeals and cage-rattling from the sows.
      Another memorable sight is the "cull pen," wherein each and every
      day, the dead or dying bodies of the weak are placed, the ones who
      expired from the sheer, unrelenting agony of it.

      It takes a well-practiced dishonesty to insist with a straight face
      that intensive confinement is "for their own good," and almost as
      brazen is the libertarian case for factory farming, which may be
      summed up as "mind your own business." Along with this comes a
      haughty little reminder that we're all the beneficiaries of factory
      farming, and where do you think all that cheap meat comes from, and
      why don't we just be grateful and let them manage their own affairs?

      The argument has a certain practical appeal, provided you forget
      that factory farming is propped up by tens of billions of dollars in
      annual federal subsidies, which are very definitely our business.
      Much as the immiserated animals are kept on four legs by hormones
      and antibiotics, the entire enterprise is sustained by those federal
      subsidies and billions more paid by government to repair industrial
      farming's immense collateral damage to land, water and air.

      The illusion of consumer savings depends not only on unscrupulous
      corporate farmers, but also on complaisant citizens and blithely
      indifferent consumers who don't ask too many questions - least of
      all moral questions. And the industry wants to keep it that way.
      Just buy the "cheap" meat, forget the damned animals, and keep the
      subsidies coming.

      Once the details are known, in short, it all becomes a very tough
      sell for factory farmers. And so far their quaint-sounding "Campaign
      for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers" (brought to you by the National
      Pork Producers Council and other agribusiness trade groups) is not
      going well.

      Industry lobbyist Jim Klinker, now director of the Arizona Farm
      Bureau and lead spokesman against the humane-farming initiative,
      started things off with a blunt reminder that farm animals aren't
      pets, and so our sympathy for them is misplaced. "These people,"
      Klinker told Tucson Weekly, "want these animals raised the same way
      we raise our dogs and cats. I think most people understand that's
      not how food is produced."

      When you want people to harden their hearts, however, it's probably
      not such a good idea to invite comparisons between farm animals and
      dogs or cats. How would your dog react if you stuffed her into a
      crate in which she could not even stretch or turn around, and never
      let her out? No human attention or companionship with other animals.
      No bedding, straw to lie on. No single moment outdoors, ever, to
      feel the breeze or the warmth of the sun.

      What if it were a dog?

      Your dog, a being of intelligence and emotional capacities entirely
      comparable to those of a pig, would beg and wail and whimper and
      finally fall silent into a state of complete brokenness. And anyone
      who inflicted such tortures on that animal, no matter what excuses
      might be offered, would be guilty of a felony. If the creatures are
      comparable, and the conditions identical, and the suffering equal,
      how can the one be "standard practice" and the other a crime?

      Next, in an interview with Arizona Capitol Times, Klinker tried out
      the "sentimentalist" line. The initiative, he scoffed, is based
      on "pure emotions" - as opposed to factory farming itself, which we
      are to assume is guided at every grim stage by the light of pure

      He followed up with a little warning that the Humane Treatment of
      Farm Animals Act is all the doing of "outsiders" anyway, by which he
      means various cranks, subversives, and social misfits who apparently
      are conspiring at this very moment to "impose the values of a
      vegetarian society on all Arizonans."

      One problem here is that if Klinker is going to be our defender of
      true Arizona values against "outsiders," then he needs to hear from
      a broader range of outside opinion. And it may surprise him to learn
      that the problems of factory farming are becoming more apparent, and
      more abhorrent, to people of every political stripe.

      When the conservative columnist George Will, for example, calls
      cruelty to animals "an intrinsic evil," citing the "pain-inflicting
      confinements and mutilations" of factory farming, you know it can no
      longer be shrugged off as the concern of a faint-hearted few.

      Factory farming, Mr. Will observed in Newsweek not long ago, has
      become a "serious issue of public policy." And conservatives in
      particular, applying that uncompromising moral clarity on which they
      pride themselves, should not be afraid to call "vicious" things what
      they are.

      Another conservative writer, Andrew Ferguson of Bloomberg News,
      challenged the "hyper-efficient agricultural economy" and "the cruel
      innovations the modern industrial farm depends upon." And Father
      Richard John Neuhaus, writing in the conservative National Review,
      expressed his disgust at "the horrors perpetuated against pigs on
      industrial farms," a matter "that warrants public and governmental

      Neuhaus could cite, if he needed further authority, Pope Benedict
      XVI, who has warned against the "degrading of living creatures to a
      commodity" entailed in factory farming. And Protestant Christians
      could hear a similar message from one of their own most respected
      figures, Charles Colson, the conservative evangelist who cautions
      that "When it comes to animal welfare today, Christians have allowed
      the secular world to set the agenda. ... We need to get involved in
      shaping laws that determine animal treatment. But first we must make
      it our business to find out how the ... cattle of the earth are
      treated on factory farms." Christians especially, declared
      Colson, "have a duty to prevent the needless torment of animals."

      "Outsiders," all of them, but not to my knowledge collaborators in
      any effort to impose "the values of a vegetarian society" on
      Arizona. For Klinker and other lobbyists for factory farming, surely
      the lesson is that they should spend a little less time warning
      about other people's values, and a little more time examining their

      It is true, as he reminds us, that other states have far
      larger "herds" than in Arizona's $40 million-a-year pork industry.
      But this is hardly a thought to put one's mind at rest. The same was
      also true, until recently, of Utah, now home to a sprawling network
      of nightmarish "mega-farms," all of them built and run by giant
      corporations like Smithfield Foods, the real outsiders in all of
      this. The largest of these places, a sort of gulag for pigs, holds
      1.3 million in confinement and produces more waste every year than
      metropolitan Los Angeles.

      Why, Klinker wonders, enact a law here instead of in Iowa, North
      Carolina or Utah? Well, for starters, maybe Arizonans do not want to
      go the way of Utah. And in that case, now would be a good time to
      bar the door.

      Prepare yourself to hear, in the coming months, these arguments and
      similar rubbish from industry lobbyists, their shill veterinarians,
      and anyone else they can trot out to make something pernicious and
      contemptible seem decent and praiseworthy. Then in the quiet of the
      voting booth ask yourself why any creature of God, however humble,
      should be made to endure the dark, lonely, tortured existence of the
      factory farm, and what kind of people build their fortunes upon such

      The answer will send an unequivocal message, to factory farmers here
      and to all concerned, that unbridled arrogance, bad faith, and rank
      cruelty are not Arizona values.

      Matthew Scully worked for Arizona governors Mecham, Mofford, and
      Symington. A former special assistant and deputy director of
      speechwriting for President Bush, he is the author of "Dominion: The
      Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy."
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