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Why Are Powerful Institutions Trying to Find the Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing?
From slaughterhouses to veterinary associations, organizations are going through ethical contortions in an attempt to justify cruelty. What if they just admitted animal abuse is wrong?
In 2001, the Washington Post published what was, at the time, perhaps the most important investigative article in the history of animal rights. I was a baby vegan at the time, barely able to find food to eat. But the piece by the Post, which found that 64% of slaughterhouses were failing to properly stun animals before they were eviscerated on the slaughter line, shocked me into action. Not only was my veganism cemented, but I began my career as an activist.
While did not do much to address the cruelty in slaughterhouses, in my early days as an activist, many others did. The result was a purported major improvement to slaughter methods: controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS). Instead of shooting or shocking animals, which had a high rate of failure, the promise of CAS was a quiet, peaceful death. Major animal rights groups endorsed the shift, and Smithfield — the largest pig production company in the world — eventually adopted the practice. They have historically described it in even rosier terms than stunning.
Smithfield Foods has led the U.S. pork industry in installing equipment to anesthetize pigs using CO2. Our facilities use the Butina® CO2 Backloader anesthetizer system, which allows pigs to move slowly, in small groups, minimizing stress for the animals and their handlers. CO2 anesthetizing is very effective and produces higher-quality meat than the older, single-file electrical stunning systems.
The description makes the slaughter of pigs sound more like a medical procedure. And, until last week, no one had any doubt to believe the pigs were undergoing anything worse than “anesthetizing.”
What happened last week? Raven Dearbrook, an undercover DxE activist, crawled down into the CO2 Backloader system, and placed secret cameras to show the world what actually happens inside. The footage speaks for itself:
The shift to CAS, however, is merely one example of the repeated failure by the industry to undertake reforms that have genuine benefits for animals. From cage-free egg farms that have vastly increased cannibalism, to “group-housing” systems for pigs that gave each less than 25 square feet of space, efforts by the industry to find the right way to do the wrong thing have consistently failed.
There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that there’s so little transparency and accountability that reform efforts rarely actually achieve what they promise. This is what happened with California’s Prop 2, which went into effect in 2016 but never caused a single successful prosecution. The second reason efforts to reform the system have failed is that there are underlying incentives that discourage successful reform. Notably, when a factory farmer conveniently fails to provide pigs with increased square footage, that allows him to raise more pigs.
But the most important reason for the failed efforts to find the right way to do the wrong thing is quite simple: the wrong thing will always feel wrong. I’ll be writing much more about this in the weeks to come, when I write about the cases I’ve been working on (Asha Farm) and learning about (Porgreg 12) in the last week.