Mark My Words: Butchering the Truth About Meat Production

A majority of human beings have a strange disconnect between themselves and their food. Thanks to advertising, misinformation, and general apathy, few Americans really understand the process by which food, particularly meat, makes its way from the field to the supermarket.

While there have been some successful efforts to educate the public on the issues surrounding food and factory farming, the overwhelming majority of Americans have absolutely no idea what happens in slaughterhouses throughout the country.

This isn’t an accident. Big agribusiness is ugly and its executive officers know it. Agribusiness spends a good deal of its lobbying money instituting laws that ensure the public will have as hard a time learning the truth as possible.

The most recent example of these efforts is shockingly bold. A bill is making its way through the Iowa legislature that would outlaw the production, distribution, or possession of photos or video taken without permission at an agricultural facility. The bill would further criminalize lying on an application to work in an agricultural facility “with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner.”

The only thing transparent about this bill is its corrupt intent. The only reason this bill and others like it are ever proposed is because big agriculture has a massive interest in hiding the truth about their practices from the public. The facts are not in big agribusiness’ favor, which is exactly why they are trying to slip bills like this into law with as little attention as possible.

Over 9 billion birds per year are slaughtered for food in the United States, constituting over 95% of all land animals slaughtered domestically for consumption. That fact notwithstanding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not include them under the protections of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act thanks to constant lobbying pressure from agribusiness.

Last year, a series of secretly recorded videos that were leaked out of an Iowa poultry plant led to the largest egg recall in United States history. In 2008, a secretly recorded video distributed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed Iowa pig farm workers beating pigs and bragging about the level of abuse they could inflict. The videos’ distribution eventually led to criminal convictions against the perpetrators, although none of them were ever fired.

These abuses are not just limited to Iowa. In 2009, an undercover investigator exposed workers attempting to skin calves alive at a Vermont veal facility. In late 2008, a federal grand jury indicted a South Carolina-based turkey farm for 14 violations of the the Clean Water Act for dumping turkey feathers, blood, internal organs, and other body parts directly into the city’s municipal sewage. The list of appalling statistics goes on and on.

Unfortunately, agribusiness’ strangle-hold on the Iowan economy and political sphere all but ensures the bill’s passage. “Agriculture is what Iowa is all about,” Democratic Senator John Kibbiethe New York Times. “Our economy would be in the tank, big time, if it wasn’t for agriculture.”

If this bill becomes law, it would criminalize whistleblowers and further insulate the abuses of big agribusiness from the public eye. It would be a massive step backwards in the fight for transparency that continues to reveal egregious health and safety violations as well as nauseating cruelty. The truth may be inconvenient, but our health and the well-being of billions of animals demand we turn a critical eye to the actions of big agriculture, regardless of their protests.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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Mark Kogan

Mark is a lawyer and Mic contributor living in Washington, D.C.

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