If a pig squeals in a slaughterhouse but no one’s there to film it…

by Adam

Mickey Z.

“Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse.”

African proverb

There are so many ways to deal with atrocity: expose it, defend it, condemn it, justify it, smash it, rationalize it, avenge it—to name but a few. Perhaps the simplest and most common method of all is to hide it. Just ask the folks in the Iowa House of Representatives where HF 589 was approved earlier this year.

Along with the Senate version (SF 431) of this bill, HF 589 specifically targets those who shoot undercover videos of animal mistreatment at factory farms (and other venues of abuse and torture). As described by the ASPCA, if passed into law in 2012, these bills will “protect large factory farms as well as puppy mills by making undercover investigations into animal care illegal. Those who report and expose cruelty to animals would risk misdemeanor or felony charges, heavy fines, and jail time.”

Similar bills are being proposed in Florida and Minnesota but fear not, truth seekers. It’s not like anyone is being falsely led to believe that a rogue employee doesn’t occasionally perpetrate the oh-so-rare case of animal mistreatment.

As HF 589’s chief sponsor, Iowa House Representative Annette Sweeney, assured Joe Fassler of The Atlantic: “It’s a bill to encourage reporting. If you think your supervisor’s not listening, there are other solutions that are prescribed by law—you can go to your local sheriff, veterinarian, deputy sheriff, the USDA, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.”

Don’t you feel much better now? It’s not censorship; it’s just a straightforward case of encouraging whistleblowers to follow proper protocol.

While we’re on the topic of protocol, you might be wondering exactly how one might go about discerning “animal abuse” within an establishment that—as standard procedure—utilizes barbaric practices like veal crates, battery cages, castration, de-beaking, and more.

The bills being proposed, Fassler suggests, are “not really about the illegal, unnecessary abuse.” HF 589’s true purpose, he posits is “to maintain widespread public ignorance about everyday factory farm practices, which can be horrifying in even their most benign incarnations. Recreational abuse is something the industry can afford to do without. But without the institutional cruelty of the factory farm model, the industry would not exist.”

It calls to mind the shuttering of a certified organic slaughterhouse in Vermont named Bushway Packing, Inc. in October 2009 due to numerous videotaped cases of alleged animal abuse (let’s hear it for the soon-to-be-criminalized undercover videographers). In that case, the Humane Society charged some of the animals handled by the plant were “so young they still had their umbilical cords attached and could not walk” and that Bushway workers tried to “force the animals to walk by slapping, kicking, dragging the animals and using electric prods.”

Taken at face value, such reportage appears to expose some atypical abuse. But again, what constitutes “cruelty” in a goddamned slaughterhouse? When cows are often hoisted upside-down by their hind legs and dismembered while they are still conscious, isn’t the cruelty point moot?

Like all mainstream media stories, of course, news reports of the Bushway shutdown were designed to be taken at face value, but some of us wanna know if it’s cruelty

  • …when a male calves’ testicles are ripped from their scrotums without pain relievers?
  • …when cattle are fed high-bulk grains and other “fillers,” which can include expired dog and cat food, poultry feces, and leftover restaurant food?
  • …when “veal calves” are taken from their mothers within the first few days of birth and crammed into individual crates or stalls, tethered by their necks?

I could go on but you probably get the idea. But let’s add in one more related fact: According to a report from World Watch, animal byproducts are responsible for 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51% of annual worldwide human caused greenhouse gas.

Yeah, the cruelty has gone global.

Here in the land of the free, of course, we reflexively choose to turn away our gaze and pretend we don’t see what’s being done in our name. This intentional ignorance becomes that much more effortless to rationalize when we stand by and allow it to become illegal to do otherwise.

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction,” wrote James Baldwin. “Anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Innocence has been dead and decomposing for a long, long time, friends…so no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, this is our fight. The stakes have never been higher and we’re the lucky ones charged with the most important mission ever: survival. It’s either that or become one of Baldwin’s “monsters.”

I’ll see you on the barricades…

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.