Who Protects the Animals?

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Who Protects the Animals?

[Ed. Note: Read other articles about the amazing work of undercover investigators who videotape cruelty...wherever they are hired and the actions taken by agribusiness to make them into criminals - Animals Should Be Shot—With Cameras and States to Outlaw Factory Farm Investigations? Also read Got Milk? How about Mercy for Day-old Calves? MFA Investigation Reveals Barbaric Violence on Texas Dairy Farm.]

By Karen Dawn, Dawnwatch.com
May 2011

This is a review of Mark Bittman's column in the New York Times, April 26, 2011

Bittman reminds us that "this is far from an isolated incident," and in one of my favorite lines tells us that the company owner "insists that it was a coincidence that the investigator for Mercy for Animals showed up just when his workers were hammering cows' heads..."

I don't tell people what they should or shouldn't eat, but I do recommend people make informed and conscious choices. If you can't bring yourself to even look at what you are actively supporting, what you are causing, then it must be time to examine that disconnect.

Mark Bittman has become a consistent and persuasive voice for animal welfare in the New York Times. I write welfare as opposed to rights in that he is an omnivore who generally focuses on the way animals used for human food are treated as opposed to arguing that we shouldn't be eating them at all. But given what a high proportion of vegan animal rights activists, including myself, came to this movement as a result of the images shown to us via welfare campaigns, the two are hardly mutually exclusive. So perhaps I should just refer to Bittman as a voice for the animals. His final point in the April 27, 2011 opinion piece assures me that's a fair call. He writes:

But in 'Bengal Tiger,' a Broadway play set at Baghdad Zoo, the tiger (played by Robin Williams)  wonders: 'What if my every meal has been an act of cruelty?' The way most animals are handled in the United States right now has to have all of us omnivores wondering the same thing."

The article opens by telling us that "employees at E6 Cattle Company in western Texas were videotaped bashing cows' heads in with pickaxes and hammers and performing other acts of unspeakably sickening cruelty." He is describing the latest Mercy for Animals undercover investigation at an operation that raises calves for the dairy industry. Bittman reminds us that "this is far from an isolated incident," and in one of my favorite lines tells us that the company owner "insists that it was a coincidence that the investigator for Mercy for Animals showed up just when his workers were hammering cows' heads..."

In fact, if such cruelties were aberrations then our movement would have to have hundreds of undercover investigators on farms all over the country to try to capture this kind of footage. But we have just a couple of people willing to do that work, and every time they go into an animal enterprise they come out with video of horrors that are standard operating procedure. For example, dehorning cattle, burning off their horns, without anesthesia, is standard operating procedure on dairy farms, including organic farms. The section of the Mercy for Animals tape where we see the smoke and see the crated and pinned calf's frantic eyes, as we hear her bellow in agony, is one of the hardest to stomach.

Bittman makes sure to write against the "ag-gag" laws being considered that "would punish heroic videographers like the one who spent two weeks as an E6 employee."

I was struck by Bittman's reference to Abu Ghraib. Peter Singer and I together penned a piece for the Los Angeles Times, back in 2004, titled, "Echoes of Abu Ghraib in Chicken Slaughterhouse." (Paul Haggis later credited that piece as the basis for an animal cruelty scene in his anti war film "The Valley of Elah.") You might enjoy checking it out on line at http://www.dawnwatch.com/oped-july25-2004.htm.

You surely won't enjoy checking out the new Mercy for Animals investigation and generally I don't recommend that animal rights activists watch every single documentation of these common horrors -- it can be enervating. If, however, you consider yourself to be an animal advocate (or just a kind person) but you are still eating cheese, I do hope you will watch. I don't tell people what they should or shouldn't eat, but I do recommend people make informed and conscious choices. If you can't bring yourself to even look at what you are actively supporting, what you are causing, then it must be time to examine that disconnect.

Somebody who cares deeply about animals actually put himself in on that horrifying "farm" for two weeks so that others could see what goes on.

Please consider a letter to the editor appreciative of Bittman's column, and making any points you wish to make --- perhaps about the joys of plant-based eating! The New York Times takes letters at letters@nytimes.com.


DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at DawnWatch. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.