Agricon, Agrispin, and Ag-gag

Most people tend to ignore animal welfare because they think their governments or animal groups are taking care of whatever needs to be taken care of. They generally think it is okay to eat animal products, while at the same time believing it is not okay to treat animals badly. What many fail to understand, however, is that bad treatment is built into the food system. And part of the reason for that failure is that they are kept in the dark, like the proverbial mushroom, and fed bullshit.

Keeping people eating animal products requires skillful manipulations and rationalizations to maintain ignorance and to manipulate choice. It is not all that hard in a world where so many are unthinking and uncritical about animal food issues, anyway. “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them,” wrote Frederick Douglas on the tyrannies of the slave trade. It can apply equally well to what corporations and governments are able to get people to quietly submit to, to what extent, that is, they can be suckered.

The job is half done because capitalist practices are accepted as the norm, such that, as Nibert writes,

Schemes, machinations, and abusive activities, lawful and unlawful, when committed by corporations and those in the position of business executive, are seen as natural parts of the market system.[1]David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 185.

People simply do not question the so-called normality around them. But that passivity of mind ensures they are easily manipulated and not conflicted when consuming animal products.

“Meat and dairy producers,” Simon writes in Meatonomics, “have conquered the two main US agencies that oversee them—the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—through a process economists call ‘regulatory capture.’”[2]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 58, 62-63. He cites, for example, the “befuddling” food advisories of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose nutrition recommendations committee has links to the food industry.

It’s like this: the USDA has conflicts of interest as an agency charged with supplying nutritional advice and protecting the public, while at the same time pursuing its main mission of getting people to consume more producers’ products. In other words, it guides the public yet also acts as a promotional branch for animal products industries. Can anyone spot a problem?

A brief look at the USDA is instructional because its regulatory methods in the US animal food industry are mirrored, exported, and copied worldwide. The entire world is factory farming, and the US example shows us where things are or where they are headed everywhere else. The USDA demonstrates several problems that government agriculture regulators everywhere are prone to.

It issues nutritional advisories that give insufficient or poor advice because designed not to offend animal industry “business” partners; recommendations to reduce saturated fat products such as cheese, while at the same time spending millions to promote fatty, animal based products; lack of real meat inspections and the inability to effectively monitor E. coli contamination in meat; powerlessness to enforce mandatory contaminated-meat recalls; and employment of agriculture industry veterans, such as from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, as decision makers in high places.[3]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 63-70.

As one commentator remarked of the USDA,

The food industry enjoys tremendous influence over the way government regulates food safety. A revolving door allows former congressional staffers and government officials to move easily between government and industry throughout their careers.”[4]Adam Sheingate, “Still a Jungle,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Issue 25 (Summer 2012), 48-59, http://www.democracyjournal.org/25/still-a-jungle.php.

The USDA serves the very industry it is supposed to regulate—so the outcome is that the policy directions of the USDA are guided by animal food industries.

Queen of Pink Slime

Of the many examples of meat industry advocates that have passed through the USDA’s revolving door is JoAnn Smith. She rose high in the US beef industry and did much to advance its cause. That is not to say she did much to lessen the suffering of animals—she was devoted to increasing meat consumption rather than improving animal welfare. She climbed the ranks of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and in 1985 became its first female president. She aggressively promoted the beef industry from one end of the country to the other. With meat industry backing, Smith gained the position of assistant secretary for Marketing and Inspection Services of the USDA from 1989 to 1993. It’s therefore fair to ask the question Gail Eisnitz puts in her book, Slaughterhouse:

Would the beef industry’s top spokesperson, an individual whose life’s goal was to increase beef consumption, really make an appropriate candidate as the nation’s chief watchdog ensuring compliance with regulations in federally inspected plants?[5]Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 241.

As Eisnitz recalls, one of the first things Smith set out to do was “stretch” the definition of meat. She authorized that beef trimmings and cartilage could be labeled as meat. That meant the stuff could be put into “beef” patties and the like.

The move increased the value of a carcass, no doubt to the cheers of cattlemen across the US. Consumers, however, had nothing to cheer about. This stuff that was allowed to be called meat was nothing more than colorized solid fat—what is now notoriously known as pink slime (as later coined by Gerald Zirnstein, former microbiologist for the USDA). What is more,

“Everybody in industry knows that it’s a perfect forum for breeding bacteria,” … “The fact that two years after JoAnn Smith became assistant secretary you had all of these outbreaks of bacteria—they’re directly attributable to that kind of disregard of health issues.”[6]Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 242.

Passing back through the revolving door, Smith retired and took a seat on the Board of Directors of Beef Products Incorporated (BPI). She continued her promotion campaigns based on the famous folksy slogan “Beef. Real Food for Real People.” What is BPI? It is a company that makes the Smith approved—not beef and not real food—pink slime.

While she made the beef industry and herself more money, increasing profits wasn’t her entire mission at the USDA. She was supposed to be responsible for protecting consumers. But Smith was around when the USDA began relaxing meat inspection procedures and standards and when slaughter line speeds skyrocketed.

The USDA had approved so-called streamlined inspection methods, first introduced in the poultry industry and then the cattle industry. Inspectors were reduced and striped of their authority, especially the authority to stop the line. What you ended up in the cattle industry was about 1 in every 1000 cows being inspected, yet 100% being stamped as inspected. So the USDA at the time was not enforcing the humane slaughter of animals and not doing proper inspections of meat.

Not surprisingly, the result was a rise in rates of E. coli 0157:H7 infections. This is the bug behind what is now called hamburger disease, which can be fatal and continues to infect tens of thousands of people in the US every year. Meat gets contaminated with E. coli through high-speed slaughter and processing operations. Contamination is inevitable because of this and because of the unnatural grain diets cattle have to endure. Cow bodies that are cancerous, that have abscesses full of pus, that are covered in feces and urine, that have mud, grease and blood on them, receive only cosmetic cleaning. Bugs get embedded in meat from the high pressure carcass sprays or spread around by rinses.

Not liking the sound of that (or rather that news of it would spread) the USDA began working on setting acceptable levels of fecal contamination on meat. That would smooth things over. Of course, JoAnn Smith was not the cause of all of this, but she was one of the top decision makers at the USDA when it was going on, the so-called “First Lady of American Agriculture.”

And it gets murkier. According to Eisnitz, Smith’s family cattle operation probably sold its cattle to Kaplan, one of the largest beef slaughterhouse operations in Florida.[7]Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 251-252. Kaplan, like so many slaughterhouse operators then and now, was operating under substandard conditions. At Kaplan Industries back in the late 80s, they were skinning cattle alive.

The problem with cattle slaughtering, as people in the meat industry know, is that cattle often are not killed by the knocking gun, for a host of reasons. Yet they are still shackled up and sent on down the line, alive. If strung-up cattle arrive at a skinner’s station still alive, after having been stabbed by the sticker to bleed them, they might start kicking. To remedy this inconvenience, the skinner will knife the cattle in the back of the head to paralyze them. This doesn’t make the animal unconscious or immune to pain, it just stops it kicking. These practices at Kaplan were key to job survival and to the company’s bottom line, which was to keep the line moving. Even when violations were pointed out, nothing was done about it.

So what does this add up to? It means we had a family operation of the assistant secretary for Marketing and Inspection Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the most senior official at the department responsible for enforcing the Humane Slaughter Act—selling cattle to Kaplan Industries where cattle were being routinely skinned alive.

Diet Manipulation

As essentially an advocacy organization for farmers, the USDA promotes their products by telling the general population, including those at government run facilities such as soldiers and school kids, what to eat. US school cafeterias reflect the USDA’s meat and dairy advocacy through giving those food groups prominence, and cafeterias even get supplies of meat bought by the USDA.

David Nibert documents a case in 1998, when the USDA bought millions of kilos of beef from a meat company that had a history of E. coli contamination in its products. In fact, in the past, USDA inspectors had found over 100 safety violations by the same company. Nonetheless, the USDA bought the meat for a school lunch program, sent it to schools, and 12 children at one school in Washington contracted E. coli infections.[8]David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 173.

The US has an ongoing obesity epidemic, yet dietary information that contributes to it comes from the USDA. Kids learn its four food philosophy early with its emphasis on meat, eggs and dairy. These are the foods that contribute significantly to obesity, along with attending health issues such as diabetes. Ultimately, what the dietary advice and mixed messages from the USDA do is muddy the water of nutritional information, leaving people no wiser.

Consumer health efforts in other countries are similarly thwarted by powerful lobby groups behind government actions, pushing animal products and protecting profit margins. In 2013, a study found that food industry lobbies in Australia and New Zealand were a failure and contributing to a growing obesity problem largely because

the food industry has become both heavily embedded in the policy-making process, (despite glaring conflicts of interest), and enormously successful at applying lobbying pressure to keep healthy food policies off the agenda.[9]Boyd Swinburn, “New Zealand failing in obesity prevention,” The University of Auckland, September 13, 2013, https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2013/2013/09/12/New-Zealand-failing-in-obesity-prevention.html.

According to the author of the study, Professor Boyd Swinburn of The University of Auckland and Deakin University in Melbourne, this was complemented by a government worldview that food choice is up to the individual,

The powerful lobby from the processed food industry has ensured that any healthy food policies which might threaten their profits do not get up. The Governments in both New Zealand and Australia have even been spooked into not daring to regulate unhealthy food marketing to children, despite being the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic.[10]Boyd Swinburn, “New Zealand failing in obesity prevention,” The University of Auckland, September 13, 2013, https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2013/2013/09/12/New-Zealand-failing-in-obesity-prevention.html.

Another study, led by Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute and the University of Sydney, found that an Australian government body set up to change Australian eating habits had failed dismally as well, and that food industry lobby groups were “stifling action.”[11]Clifford Fram, “Govt healthy food bid has failed: study,” The Australian, February 3, 2014, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/govt-healthy-food-bid-has-failed-study/story-fn3dxiwe-1226816268685.[/quote] As in the US, a combination of stifling action and directing choice is how the food industry gets people to eat more meat, eggs, and dairy.

Another means of directing choice is deceptive marketing and advertising by government and corporations. In 2013, Alternet.org ran a short piece on junk food and some “disturbing deceptions the industry is using to keep Americans hooked on its junk.”[12]April M. Short, “You Won’t Believe What the Food Industry Is Doing to Keep Americans Hooked on Junk,” Alternet, June 18, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/food/3-most-disgusting-deceptions-junk-food-industry-using-you?paging=off. This included the branding of processed foods to make them look “natural” or homemade, which is far from what you are getting because it requires even more food processing.

Marketing to children under the guise of charity is another tactic to entice a future generation of complicit consumers. The industry uses social media and what are called “advergaming” websites and “philanthro marketing.” The former describes websites that contain food-related videogames, and an example of the latter is when children go on field trips to McDonald’s to hear about Ronald House Charities. These activities are not considered marketing as such, and therefore the industry can avoid the scrutiny of regulatory bodies.

Another method of enticement is the manufacturing of addiction through scientifically creating foods with the right combination of salt, sugar and fat to satisfy the natural, evolutionary cravings of our brains. Remember, when the subject is junk food, we are almost invariably talking about animal food industry ingredients.

The language used to put—pardon the pun—lipstick on a pig is what I call “agrispin.” This entails the manipulating of consent with repackaged myths and lies. People simply do not expect to be be flat-out lied to on such an important matter, but as Jonathan Safran Foer notes in Eating Animals, “we are constantly lied to about nutrition,”[13]Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 141. and he recollects the analogy in Marion Nestle’s influential Food Politics of how food companies, willing to market anything that sells, are like cigarette companies:

They lobby Congress to eliminate regulations perceived as unfavorable; they press federal regulatory agencies not to enforce such regulations; and when they don’t like regulatory decisions, they file lawsuits. Like cigarette companies, food companies co-opt food and nutrition experts by supporting professional organizations and research, and they expand sales by marketing directly to children.[14]Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 142; see Marion Nestle, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), xiii.

Adults and kids alike are sucked in consciously or unconsciously by the industry’s commercials that continue to peddle an agricultural world that no longer exists—you know, the group of dairy cows grazing on grassy hills, for example. It uses pithy and plain messaging that gets into people’s heads and perpetuates meat myths, such as the idea that “beef is real food” or you have to “give the man meat.” False labeling is like false images in advertising, where products made from factory farmed animal are proclaimed as natural and fresh. This is all plain dishonesty, and governments ensure it stays that way—ensure your right to know is denied.

The Humane Myth

Perhaps the most insidious of animal food industry manipulations is the humane myth—the idea that conditions are optimal for humane treatment or that a product comes from humanely raised animals. Priority of humane treatment is one of the major themes of agrispin. How animal food industry spokespeople express this fallacy is by appropriating the language and concerns of the very people they oppose—animal advocates.

Why this agrispin technique is especially annoying is not only because it is just more lying, but it also provides the cues for others to perpetuate myths. People will use agrispin they have heard in their own defenses of meat eating. They will come out with the same statements and truly believe them, and they will not have bothered to investigate the truth behind the lies because they wanted to believe what they were told.

Let’s look at a case in point, a mild form of the humane myth brought to us by Joe Salatin, a farmer made famous after Michael Pollan raved about his farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin is highly religious and believes animals do not have souls, so naturally he is fine with killing them. He frames himself as an environmentalist, an animal lover running an “animal sanctuary,” and an all-natural organic farmer all the way. Ironically, as someone who raises animals for slaughter, he is “in the healing industry”![15]Caroline Massie, “Holy cow! Farmer Joel Salatin discusses religion, farming and healthy eating,” The Cavalier Daily, September 24, 2009, http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2009/09/holy-cow/. There is the kind of language that makes customers feel good and that they are doing the right thing, even though that thing is still consuming animals killed for cash while young.

The identity Salatin gives himself and the language he adopts is a small-scale version of what corporations try to appropriate for themselves. As comical as they are in their mechanical shallowness, it is more than enough to bamboozle the credulous.

At the other end of the spectrum, far from Salatin who will at least provide animals space, are spokespersons for industrial agriculture, such as Trent Loos, who wrote a piece in the High Plains Journal about an agreement between the United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States on legislation to improve the welfare of battery hens. The HSUS agreement included an enriched housing system that provides double the current amount of space for hens. As the UEP represents 85% of egg farmers in the US, who exploit nearly 300 million birds, the legislation will have a huge impact.

In his opinion piece, Loos first off implies that animal welfare issues are made unclear by all those oversensitive emotions, while all along animal agriculturalists have only ever wanted to stick to the science—you know, the kind of “sound science” that says giving a chicken the space of an A4 page to live on for a year and a half is quite okay. In the HSUS agreement, the UEP agrees to phase in the so-called enriched cage system that gives birds the space of about, well, two A4 pages to live on. Yes, “enriched” is an agrispin word. But Loos takes agrispin to another level: “These cages are more like little condos that allow a small group of chickens to have more room.”[16]Trent Loos, “Strategy, not knee-jerk reactions,” High Plains Journal, July 18, 2011, http://www.hpj.com/archives/2011/jul11/jul18/0713LoosTalesMRsr.cfm. For someone that would be the first to label animal rights statements as hyperbole, that certainly is enriched language. One thing consistent about agrispin is that you can be sure is it consistently false.

Some key points to understand about animal food industries and their pseudo-obsessive fake concern for animal welfare and humane treatment are summarized by Tom Regan in Empty Cages .[17]Tom Regan, Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, 2004), 80-83. From the outset he makes a few things clear that people really need to grasp so they are not taken in by the agrispin:

First, when spokespersons for the major animal user industries speak in the language of “humane care,” they are mouthing the words the government has told them to say.

It is the language already found in the Animal Welfare Act. All spokespersons for major animal exploitation industries say the same thing because it is “what the government wants to hear.” Second, there are so few violations for animal cruelty in the food industry, not because violations do not happen but because “the legal standards for “humane” treatment are too minimal, their enforcement, pitiful.” Third, the use of veterinarians to legitimize practices in the animal food industries does not mean they prevent cruelty or stop the operations of animal industries. In fact, veterinarian organizations fully endorse the use of animals for human purposes.

The keys words you will see used everywhere are “humane treatment and care,” and if you should ever hear animal agriculture spokespersons using this language, it is time, in the words of Carl Sagan, to apply the art of baloney detection. When these spokespersons are caught out, they will first deny everything, then they will attack those who exposed it, then they will say it was an isolated incident, and finally they will pay a fine. The fact is cruelty is systematic, built in, and accounted for in the system. Any fine will not significantly hurt their operations.

Censorship for Cash

The other means of influencing unwary consumers besides agrispin propaganda, muddying information and debate, and proclaiming virtues that do not exist is plain old censorship. Censorship is precisely what the now notorious ag-gag is about. Everyone should worry when people involved in food production what to keep secrets from you. Ag-gag laws are new legislation that animal food industries have lobbied for and succeed in getting so that you cannot see, criticize, examine, or record what they are doing.

While these laws are new, animal food industries have long been in the business of censorship since ordinary people started learning about factory farming. Ask the Mad Cowboy. It was in April 1996 that the Mad Cowboy, Howard F. Lyman, a former cattle rancher, was chatting to Oprah Winfrey on her show about the threat of mad cow disease. Mad cows disease was a big issue at the time, after it was found in British cattle and had infected and killed people. It is what you get when you turn cattle into cannibals by feeding them other dead cattle. There was a major panic and millions of cattle were culled.

After Lyman had suggested that American cattle were at risk of contracting and spreading disease, Winfrey announced in that manner of hers: “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger! I’m stopped!” That began a long legal process based on Lyman violating the Texas Food Disparagement Act. Lyman tells all about it his no-nonsense book Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat and on his website.[18]Howard F. Lyman, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998); see http://www.madcowboy.com/01_BookOP.000.html. Lyman and Winfrey were vindicated in the end, with Lyman providing this take away observation:

behind the absurdity of this lawsuit lay an ugly reality. The American people have been raised to believe that someone is looking out for their food safety. The disturbing truth is that the protection of the quality of our food is the mandate of foot-dragging bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration who can generally be counted upon to behave not like public servants but like hired hands of the meat and dairy industries.[19]Howard F. Lyman, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 19-20.

If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t talk down that meat! Better still, just don’t eat it. The Lyman trial was one of the first times a food disparagement law was used to silence the media and free speech. Regardless of the outcome, it did have a “chilling effect.” These laws are known a “veggie libel” laws because they are plainly anti-vegetarian, but clearly it is more than just anti-vegetarian and affects anyone who might want to speak out.

The same is true of the notorious and long-running McLibel case in England, as detailed in the documentary, McLibel. Two activists, Helen Steel and David Morris, who were critical of McDonald’s were sued by the company. However, McDonald’s had not reckoned on coming up against two individuals with fortitude and backbone enough to make a stand. The company got little out of the litigation but years of embarrassment at the cost of millions of dollars. But apart from Steel and Morris, who among us could devote 10 to 20 years of our lives to court cases against a corporation?

What is significant about these laws is that they affect everyone, not just the environmental or animal activists they are designed to silence. “They generally run contrary to consumers’ interests in food safety, corporate accountability, the free flow of information, and the humane treatment of animals,” writes Simon in Meatonomics, “At bottom, these many lawmaking efforts merely promote what Thomas Jefferson called ‘the selfish spirit of commerce.’”[20]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 53. Perhaps the most morally corrupt aspect of these laws is not the evading of safety violations but the keeping of cruelty legal, thus ensuring an uninformed public continues to support it with cash.

The idea behind ag-gag bills is plain censorship—removing the right to know how food is produced and keeping people ignorant and unskeptical. Exposes have uncovered conditions and abuses so bad that they have led to criminal charges, massive meat recalls, and closures. HSUS is an example of a group that has instigated all three of these steps through various undercover investigations: its investigation into abuse and cruelty at Wyoming Premium Farms brought criminal charges, its investigation of a milking cow slaughter plant in California led to the largest meat recall in US history and criminal charges, and its investigation of calf abuses at a Vermont slaughter plant led to plant closure and criminal charges.[21]”Anti-Whistleblower Bills Hide Factory-Farming Abuses from the Public,” HSUS, January 7, 2014 http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/campaigns/factory_farming/fact-sheets/ag_gag.html#id=album-185&num=content-3312. But think about this: what these few examples mean is that if undercover investigations had not occurred, the conditions and abuses deemed so bad as to bring criminal charges would have just continued on and on, unseen, with the animals helpless against the onslaught.

So what is the response of the animal food industry, in collusion with the government, when it comes to criminal activities within the food industry? It was not to solve the systematic cruelties but to try and make the problem go away by turning the actual investigators into criminals. Ag-gag laws help corporate interests cover up and dictate what you are allowed to know and see. They are specifically designed to hide abuses for profit, and what is astounding is that everyone from both sides of the issue basically knows this fact.

Ag-gag laws turn common decency and ethics upside down. It is a perverted world we live in, where it is a crime to report crimes and where so many official resources go into hiding cruelty rather than stopping it. In February of 2014, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof on another recent HSUS undercover investigation into the ominously named Iron Maiden Farms in Kentucky.[22]Nicholas Kristof, “Is That Sausage Worth This?” The New York Times, February 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/opinion/kristof-is-that-sausage-worth-this.html. It showed sows typically crammed into iron pens so restrictive they cannot even turn around.

Not only that, it depicted a new practice of turning the intestines of gutted piglets into a slurry to feed back to the mother hogs. It supposedly helps immunize the mothers against porcine epidemic diarrhea (P.E.D.), a virus that kills piglets. Farmers, however, being the industrial kind, have found that simply feeding pigs the diarrhea from an animal infected with P.E.D. does the job, too. The undercover video takes us into the nightmarish concrete and steel confines of a factory farm, full of sickness, pain, and misery.

Any right minded, rational person is repulsed, once the knowledge of what goes on becomes clear through such investigations. As Kristof acknowledges, “popular disgust is leading to a revolution in industrial farming practices,” and while that is very slow in the making, it would not have come about had censorship strategies by animal food profiteers, such as ag-gag laws, been more successful.

Meat, dairy, and egg industries continue to try to hide the horrors because they have long term visions and generations of eaters ahead of them. All skeptics should be concerned about the denial of information and knowledge that factory farmer operators seek to perpetuate.

Welfare Farming & Externalized Costs

From ag-gag to ag-flab. The next strategy for manipulating and directing people’s behavior and their diets is keeping meat and dairy prices artificially low. Corporate welfare subsidies paid by the taxpayer not only encourage wasteful and illogical farming practices, they encourage people to consume meat and dairy in quantities they probably would not ordinarily eat. The logic of manipulation is simple: producers that keep prices artificially low direct consumer choice.[23]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xxiv, 78.

In 2011, the Washington Post published a response to the USDA’s new Myplate program—its replacement of the old-style food pyramid—along with an accompanying graphic.[24]Arthur Allen, “U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat,” The Washington Post, October 4, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-touts-fruit-and-vegetables-while-subsidizing-animals-that-become-meat/2011/08/22/gIQATFG5IL_story.html. The article points out that, while the Myplate image advises that over a quarter of your place should have vegetables, this does not reflect the reality of government funding ratios: “federal incentives to farmers reflect an entirely different agenda. In large part, the government pays farmers who grow food for animals that become meat.” Most subsidies go to animal-feed crops, while farmers that grow fruits, vegetables and tree nuts see very little. As one critic noted, the subsidies ultimately “promote the production of unhealthful food by big business.” People on a budget will buy what is cheapest, so artificially low costs of meat directs their dietary choices toward these unhealthful foods.

What’s more, the subsidies that help keep prices artificially low are a way of getting the taxpayer to pay for production. They are a kind of externalized cost. Externalizing costs means shifting the financial burdens of production onto consumers and taxpayers in a host of ways, which in turn enables an increase of consumption. In Meatonomics, Simon sums up how they are able to do this:

state and federal governments provide key assistance in this demand-boosting process by laying out subsidies and protectionist policies that let producers sidestep the vast majority of their own production costs…. through misguided legislation and policymaking, lawmakers actually encourage the industrial food complex to impose its production costs on us.[25]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xxiv-xxv.

Simon calculates the enormous costs of “meatonomics” for public in the US alone:

The total expenses imposed on society—that is, production costs not paid by animal food producers—are at least $414 billion.17 These costs are not reflected in the prices Americans pay at the cash register. Rather, they are exacted in other ways, like higher taxes and health insurance premiums, and decreases in the value of homes and natural resources touched by factory farms. For every dollar in retail sales of meat, fish, eggs, or dairy, the animal food industry imposes $1.70 of external costs on society.[26]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xx.

Another indirect cost, in the case of the US, is the program to allow ranchers to graze their livestock on public lands for a negligible fee.[27]See “Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West?” The Daily Pitchfork, February 13, 2015, http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=631.

Without externalizing costs, here is what things would cost at the cash register: $3.50 of milk would cost $9, a $5 carton of organic eggs would cost $13, a $5 hamburger would cost $13, a $10 steak would cost $27, and $12.18 of pork ribs would cost $32.[28]David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xx, 72; David Robinson Simon, “10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat and Dairy Industries,’ Meatonomics, September 28, 2013, http://meatonomics.com/2013/09/28/10-things-i-wish-all-americans-knew-about-the-meat-dairy-industries/. The practice of “dumping externalities,” as it is called, is built into the factory farming system or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS). Taxpayer dollars in the form of subsidies go into propping up factory farms, ensuring they continue as an industrial farming model. Thus, worst practices are rewarded.

The 2008 report CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations, lays bare the reality of direct and indirect subsidies and externalized and hidden costs in the US.

For example, conservative estimates of grain subsidies and manure distribution alone suggest that CAFOs would have incurred at least $5 billion in extra production costs per year if these expenses were not shifted onto the public.[29]Doug Gurian-Sherman, CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2008), 5.

Some might say that all of this is fine as long as their burgers stay at $5, but the cost is not simply economic. While other industries also externalize costs, the animal food industry trumps all in terms of animal suffering, health costs, including the spread of deadly viruses, and environmental devastation. It is a burden on everyone, and most bitterly so to vegetarians and vegans who are forced to pay for it through taxes.

Every time you make a food choice you are “farming by proxy,” in the words of Wendall Berry. If you are paying freely and happily for cheap animal products, you are responsible for perpetuating the manipulative and dishonest behaviors of animal food industries and governments. You are allowing yourself to be duped, naively believing what you are told. You are agreeing to policies made by others and handing over the control of important issues to a few people in positions of power who don’t belong there.

Most people in the developed world, Wendall observes, have thoughtlessly given proxies to corporations to produce our food and turned themselves into passive consumers.[30]Wendall Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2003), 250. They are not aware of the extent of their complicity “as individuals and especially as individual consumers, in the behavior of the corporations.”[31]Wendall Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2003), 250. Without critically thinking about food choices, you are giving money in support of all the terrible consequences of industrial animal food farming—ruined local communities and economics, small farmers driven out of business, animal cruelty and criminal abuses, food safety violations, polluted waterways and massive fish kills, over-consumption of water resources, large manure and waste disposal problems, terrible conditions for workers, increased health care costs, the spread of food borne illnesses, growing antibiotic resistances, the threat of zoonotic diseases of plague proportions, and increasing global warming.

All of this can be boycotted and protested against on a personal level with a vegan diet and by adopting the lifestyle of a vegan skeptic. What we have seen of the manipulative and destructive behaviors of governments and animal food corporations shows us why veganism is more than just about food choice.

Notes   [ + ]

1. David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 185.
2. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 58, 62-63.
3. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 63-70.
4. Adam Sheingate, “Still a Jungle,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Issue 25 (Summer 2012), 48-59, http://www.democracyjournal.org/25/still-a-jungle.php.
5. Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 241.
6. Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 242.
7. Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse : the Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), 251-252.
8. David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 173.
9. Boyd Swinburn, “New Zealand failing in obesity prevention,” The University of Auckland, September 13, 2013, https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2013/2013/09/12/New-Zealand-failing-in-obesity-prevention.html.
10. Boyd Swinburn, “New Zealand failing in obesity prevention,” The University of Auckland, September 13, 2013, https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2013/2013/09/12/New-Zealand-failing-in-obesity-prevention.html.
11. Clifford Fram, “Govt healthy food bid has failed: study,” The Australian, February 3, 2014, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/govt-healthy-food-bid-has-failed-study/story-fn3dxiwe-1226816268685.
12. April M. Short, “You Won’t Believe What the Food Industry Is Doing to Keep Americans Hooked on Junk,” Alternet, June 18, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/food/3-most-disgusting-deceptions-junk-food-industry-using-you?paging=off.
13. Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 141.
14. Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 142; see Marion Nestle, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), xiii.
15. Caroline Massie, “Holy cow! Farmer Joel Salatin discusses religion, farming and healthy eating,” The Cavalier Daily, September 24, 2009, http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2009/09/holy-cow/.
16. Trent Loos, “Strategy, not knee-jerk reactions,” High Plains Journal, July 18, 2011, http://www.hpj.com/archives/2011/jul11/jul18/0713LoosTalesMRsr.cfm.
17. Tom Regan, Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, 2004), 80-83.
18. Howard F. Lyman, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998); see http://www.madcowboy.com/01_BookOP.000.html.
19. Howard F. Lyman, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 19-20.
20. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), 53.
21. ”Anti-Whistleblower Bills Hide Factory-Farming Abuses from the Public,” HSUS, January 7, 2014 http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/campaigns/factory_farming/fact-sheets/ag_gag.html#id=album-185&num=content-3312.
22. Nicholas Kristof, “Is That Sausage Worth This?” The New York Times, February 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/opinion/kristof-is-that-sausage-worth-this.html.
23. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xxiv, 78.
24. Arthur Allen, “U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat,” The Washington Post, October 4, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-touts-fruit-and-vegetables-while-subsidizing-animals-that-become-meat/2011/08/22/gIQATFG5IL_story.html.
25. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xxiv-xxv.
26. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xx.
27. See “Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West?” The Daily Pitchfork, February 13, 2015, http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=631.
28. David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (Conari Press, 2013), xx, 72; David Robinson Simon, “10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About The Meat and Dairy Industries,’ Meatonomics, September 28, 2013, http://meatonomics.com/2013/09/28/10-things-i-wish-all-americans-knew-about-the-meat-dairy-industries/.
29. Doug Gurian-Sherman, CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2008), 5.
30. Wendall Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2003), 250.
31. Wendall Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 2003), 250.

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