See no evil, hear no evil: Why America needs to know what goes on inside factory farms

See no evil, hear no evil: Why America needs to know what goes on inside factory farms

By Leslie Brueckner, Senior Attorney

When I was a kid, steak was a luxury. A pork roast was a treat. Even chicken wasn’t cheap. Meat was something special, and prices reflected that fact.

The reason meat and poultry cost real money back then is because it costs money to raise livestock the old-fashioned way. Healthy animals require adequate space and decent food. Cattle need to graze. Chicken need to peck and run about. Pigs need to be pigs. And when animals are raised in decent, sanitary conditions, the public gets wholesome, disease-free beef, poultry and pork. Sure, it costs money to have safe, humanely raised animal products, but rightly so.

Nowadays, you can get a burger or a broiler for practically a song. The public likes that, of course. But what a lot of the public doesn’t know is that the low cost of meat in today’s world comes at an enormous price — and not just to the animals who die to put food on our tables.

Today, family farms are practically extinct. In their place are huge corporations that raise livestock in gigantic “factory farms,” where animals are packed in tight, stuffed with antibiotics from birth (in order not to die from the overcrowding, which breeds disease), injected with hormones (to increase size and weight) and fed unwholesome diets consisting mostly of corn and recycled animal products. The economies of scale from factory farms are tremendous — so the meat stays inexpensive. But the social costs are staggering: thousands sicken and die every year from contaminated animal products; entire communities are destroyed by the toxic pollution emitted from factory farms; the employees suffer from unspeakably bad working conditions; and the overuse of antibiotics has given rise to whole new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA, which has public health officials in a panic.

The only way things are ever going to change is if the public becomes educated about what goes on inside factory farms. Once in a while, a whistleblower group like Mercy for Animals will go undercover and expose all sorts of abuses inside a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), often prompting the federal government to order recalls of adulterated animal products. The more sunlight is shed on factory farms, the better chance that things will change for the better.

But there’s the rub, because — guess what? A dozen states have either passed or are considering passing laws that make it illegal for whistleblowers to expose abuses inside factory farms. (For details, see these recent opinion pieces from the New York Times and Washington Post.) This has prompted a public outcry in the liberal press — but will it be enough to stem the tide of these laws? No way. Although a California ag-gag bill recently withered on the vine in response to negative publicity, Tennessee recently enacted its own version of ag-gag, which is awaiting signature by the governmor.

Clearly, ag-gag laws are here to stay — unless, of course, the courts step in to set things straight. Luckily, there is such a thing as the U.S. Constitution, which may provide the only lasting cure for this latest blight on the American landscape. First Amendment, anyone? Stay tuned.