Feedstuffs on Factory Farm Cruelties

Feedstuffs, which is essentially the Wall Street Journal of agribusiness, today released an editorial regarding two high-profile factory farm cruelty investigations from this past month. What’s remarkable about this piece is that the editors put the blame solely on industry. The editors then demand accountability rather than the usual evasive excuses:

It’s important to understand that companies and producers can’t just say “bad apple” and move on because — to consumers who have seen these videos again and again — there are no bad apples anymore. The bad apple, to consumers now, is the industry.

But I think their analysis misses the source of the problem. They write:

There is just no excuse for clear violations, breakdowns and failures to happen and not be stopped before an activist group becomes involved and films a video. If it happens and continues that long, it is not the activist group that’s at fault. There is, rather, something wrong with supervision, and if there is something wrong with supervision, there is something wrong with management.

Many of the so-called “breakdowns” that are captured in these videos are not a result of worker incompetence or deliberate cruelty, but rather stem from the design of housing systems and handling procedures. These cruelties are baked-in to the system on an industrywide basis, and that’s why every video investigation I’ve ever witnessed has uniformly generated the same sorts of appalling images.

For instance, given the numbers of hens raised in a typical battery facility, the design of the cages, and the scarcity of employees, it’s inevitable that any video shot will reveal numerous examples of animals caught in their cages, or suffering from untreated medical conditions.

And here’s the key point: any company that tried to unilaterally restructure by seriously boosting welfare standards, while working within the conventional factory farming system, would face insurmountable cost disadvantages. They’d be unable to compete, and would be driven from business.

So while it’s convenient to blame management or supervision, and while there are certainly brutal and callous workers at some factory farms, that’s not the root of the problem. Factory farms are universally cruel by design, and these cruelties can’t be removed in any way other than for the entire industry to fundamentally restructure.

If industry wants to put an end to future cruelty videos, they’ve got to switch to systems with more space per animal, they’ve got to put an end to crowded transport and hurried slaughter, and they need to hire more workers to tend fewer animals. In short, the economics that keep animal products cheap are the same economics that guarantee a constant stream of videos shining a spotlight on the industry.

This is absolutely not a matter of bad supervision: the only way agribusiness can put an end to its worst cruelties is to spend vastly more money on each animal it raises, while putting a system in place where no company can cut corners. Until then, the videos will keep right on coming. (Via Shapiro.) Link.