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Critical Thinking

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Animal advocacy
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This essay asks its readers to ponder a basic moral question: Does it make sense to work for the elimination of one form of abuse by promoting the adoption of a "new and improved" form of that same abuse?

"You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind."

-- Gandhi


Animal Rights International, headed by Peter Singer, paid to have these billboard style ads run on the sides of New York City buses. Peter Singer's utilitarian approach guides the policies of many of the animal organizations currently collaborating with the animal exploiting industries.

Truthiness is Stranger than Fiction
The hidden cost of selling the public on "cage-free" eggs

Many leaders in today's animal movement are supporting and even helping develop animal product labeling schemes and "animal compassionate" husbandry standards...

Source: SATYA MAGAZINE by James LaVeck   Feb 2007  
Click here for direct link to source

Truthiness: something that is spoken as if true, that one wants others to believe is true, that said often enough with enough voices orchestrated in behind it, might even sound true, but is not true.
--Ken Dryden, Canadian MP


As a strategy to end the use of battery cages several animal organizations are encouraging members and supporters to persuade individuals and institutions to switch to eggs labeled "cage-free." One of the architects of this campaign has stated that the term "cage-free" is not misleading at all -- for even though the hens are confined in artificial indoor environments, technically speaking, they are not in actual cages.

But being technically factual and telling the truth are not necessarily the same. Just ask members of the general public to imagine the lives of chickens who produce "cage-free" eggs. Most will likely envision something akin to the mythical "Old MacDonald's Farm," contented animals freely wandering about a bucolic barnyard.

The reality? Millions of young hens standing shoulder to shoulder in huge enclosed warehouses, forced to dwell day and night in their own waste, enduring air so foul that workers sometimes wear gas masks to prevent permanent damage to their lungs. Just like their battery-caged sisters, "cage-free" hens are brutally debeaked, force molted (starved for days to restart an egg laying cycle), and, of course, slaughtered when they are no longer of use. Or, as one investigator discovered, if no buyer can be found for their ravaged bodies, they might just be packed into steel drums and gassed, the piles of their lifeless remains sent to a landfill or used as compost. Not to mention the millions of male chicks who, incapable of laying eggs, are unceremoniously suffocated in plastic bags or ground alive into fertilizer or feed, their lives snuffed out before they even begin.


When animal advocates encourage the public to accept "new and improved" forms of abuse, we are powerfully reinforcing the status of nonhuman animals as property--to be acquired, used and disposed of at will. We are also significantly bolstering the credibility and positive public image of an industry with a long history of betraying public trust.

Even more troubling, we animal advocates cannot successfully carry out such a strategy without ourselves directly taking part in misleading the general public. Consider, for example, what it takes to successfully "sell" the idea that buying and consuming eggs labeled "cage-free" is socially responsible, and even compassionate. If the full reality of "cage-free" egg production--or any other systematized exploitation of animals--were to be revealed, wouldn't it be impossible to convince large numbers of people to support it?


Let's examine some of the statements that have appeared in local media where "cage-free" egg campaigns have run. Watch as the pressure to close the sale leads to the inevitable blurring of fact and fiction:

One student animal rights group characterizes their "cage-free" campaign as trying to get their college's food service to no longer purchase its eggs from "large factory farms with cruel conditions." The group's leader states that "factory farms and caged hens are harmful to the environment," and that "cage-free eggs are good for the animals and local farmers."

At another college, animal advocates state that if the university would switch to eggs labeled "cage-free," "we could pride ourselves on knowing that these birds were living a decent life," and that they'd no longer be supporting "environmentally unsustainable practices that exploit the land, the workers, the animals."

The truth is, most "cage-free" eggs are produced on industrialized farms, and there is little evidence to suggest "cage-free" production techniques are less harmful to the environment. They are certainly not "good for" animals.

Said one doctoral candidate, "If entire nations across Europe can ban battery cages and go cruelty-free, then I'm optimistic that [our university] certainly can as well!"

But can an industry that mutilates and kills the young animals it exploits truthfully be called "cruelty-free"?


So while one might choose to argue that some forms of exploitation and killing are less inhumane or less cruel than others, an informed advocate cannot honestly characterize any form of exploitation and killing as humane or free of cruelty. Yet this is exactly what the public is being led to believe.

Imagine what it means to do all the work needed to pull down the veil covering over the horrific injustice of battery egg production, and then, to turn around and methodically cover it up again with a new and improved facade: "Cage-free" eggs--the cruelty-free, socially responsible, environmentally sustainable alternative. Good for the animals, good for farmers, good for workers, good for you.

This, at a time when more and more people around the world are being addicted to an animal protein-centered diet, the proven cause of most chronic illness. This, at a time when we face record obesity, and avian influenza looms as the next pandemic. This, at a time when UN researchers have determined that animal agriculture produces more global warming impact than all the world's cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains and ships combined.

But how can anyone blame well-meaning activists for contributing to the growing smorgasbord of mis- and dis-information? After all, they've been convinced by people they admire that if they tell the truth, they will not reduce suffering as much as by offering up the false reassurances of truthiness. They've been convinced that replacing one form of abuse with another is a viable path to ending exploitation.

As the core values and principles of the movement are perversely put in service of selling the very products of suffering and exploitation they were intended to abolish, people of integrity and goodwill become increasingly disoriented. They lose their ability to recognize they've been drawn into a destructive conflict of interest, mistaking it for "pragmatism" and "common sense."


When we are willing to sacrifice the truth, to dilute its power in order to accrue short-term gains, however noble they may seem to be, we break free of our ethical moorings and begin to drift off course, inevitably carried away by the same currents that drive those caught up in exploitation.


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