This is my latest Sierra Club "Planet Kansas," article in the
"Eating as Though the Earth Matters" column
From “Humane-Washing” to “Truly Humane”
Spring, 2015 issue
“Surely a better time must be drawing nigh when godlike beings will become
truly humane and learn to put their animal fellow mortals in their hearts
instead of on their backs or in their dinners.” John Muir, Founder of the Sierra Club
The Wizard of Oz is not just in Kansas. He is everywhere attempting to fool us and admonish us to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” But when “the man behind the curtain” is in it for the money, we really need to pull that curtain down. As buyers become more educated and discerning, sellers look to find as many ways to confuse and confound as possible. We’ve watched some of the worst, most environmentally destructive companies adopt “green washing” campaigns. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to realize that we are having an impact. Otherwise these companies would not feel the need to appear green. On the other hand, their ads serve to confuse the people who have not studied the issues in depth.
Craig Volland questions false labels: Now that the public is becoming more aware of food and cruelty issues, the same strategy is taking place with many of the same companies, who are, after all, just as destructive to animals as they are to the environment. In the Fall, 2014, issue of Planet Kansas, Craig Volland pulled the curtain down on Hen House’s “Farm to Fork” campaign in his article “How Not to Buy Free Range, Humanely Produced Animal Products.” In their brochure promoting chicken consumption were false terms, parading as the truth, such as “cage free,” raised on local farms, and “Treat yourself to chicken that’s been well-treated.” Of course this is happening in advertisements and grocery stores everywhere. We could call it “humane- washing.”
Not “local,” “humane,” or “cage-free:” With a little “behind the curtain” detective work, Volland discovered that the chickens being sold at Hen House were, in fact, not locally raised or “cage free.” They came from a deceptively named “Forester Farmer’s Market” which is so- named to confuse the public and lull us into a feel good state of maleability and acceptance. Forester bears no resemblance to a farmer’s market. It is actually a huge 240 million dollar enterprise that obtains broiler chickens from 8 different confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s, aka, factory farms). As with green washing, this humane-washing is firmly rooted in the belief that we human beings can be manipulated by advertising and corporate shell games. The good side of this coin--the silver lining of this cloud--is that these corporations do understand the power of boycotting and seek to prevent it by spending billions on ads, legislation, and other tactics. They know they can lose profits if we wake up and look at the wizards who are trying so hard to convince us that they have the best interest of our health and the animals’ well-being at heart. In other words, we have power over them, and they know that. The more green-washing and humane-washing they do, the more we are seeing their fear of what we can do as consumers.
An example of that is found in Volland’s same article. He explains that the Kanza Group confronted Balls Foods (owner of Hen House) with the fact that the pork they were selling as “humanely treated” and local was in fact coming from factory farmed pigs. As a result, the humanely treated claim was removed from the ads. That is consumer power, but if no one had confronted them, we can be sure the false claim would still be on the ads.
Nor “compassion:” Whole Foods supermarket is hiding behind inaccurate labels as well. Now they have added “compassion for our animals” to their list of false claims. Undercover investigators released a video in January that showed extreme suffering of hens at Petaluma Farms, a giant egg supplier for Whole Foods. Whole Foods claims these eggs come from “Chickens Raised with Care.” Instead investigators found debeaked hens and roosters who were starving, crowded in dark buildings polluted by their own feces—a typical factory operation. The owner of Petaluma Farms defended the practice of treating the birds in this manner because they were not from the “certified humane” flock. As Hope Bohanec stated in a letter to the editor of The Press Democrat, “So let me get this straight—the Mahrts [the owners] are OK with having some of the birds suffer, as long as they are not the certified humane hens? If the owners truly cared about the birds, they would have the highest standard for them all…” Hope concludes, “Let’s embrace a new ethic. Bring farmed animals into our circle of compassion and not eat meat, dairy or eggs.”
But let’s say we actually find a local farm that allows chickens access to the outdoors. For every egg laying chicken on that farm, a male chick was killed shortly after hatching either by being ground up alive or suffocated in a trash can. The egg laying chickens and their brothers, of course, never saw their mothers, and their mothers were deprived of caring for their babies. Nearly all of these hens will have had their beaks mutilated without anesthesia. Once their production declines, usually within two years, they are killed, often ground into fertilizer or simply thrown away as trash. In nature or at a sanctuary, they can live ten years or more. Ironically, the organic label for all animals often spells even greater suffering. Since the “organic” industry withholds antibiotics, sick animals suffer from their illnesses without the medicine they need.
Or, let’s say that in our research we actually find a local farm that claims to sell milk from happy cows. Is that possible? In order to keep cows producing milk, they are forced to stay pregnant. When their babies are born, they are taken away from them so that human beings can drink their milk, not their babies. Moms and babies cry for one another and suffer greatly from this forced separation. The baby boys are usually confined in veal crates and killed at about 4 months of age To re-impregnate the mother dairy cows (whether labelled “humane” or not) they are restrained on rape racks. The scientific sounding “artificial insemination” involves someone crudely and disrespectfully inserting his arm into her rectum in order to position the uterus while an insemination instrument is inserted into her vagina. Cows that could live into their twenties if they could live normal lives, are usually unable to produce milk by the young age of 4 to 6. By then, they have lost enormous amounts of calcium. Their bones can break while being transported to slaughter, and they often are sick and very weak. It is difficult to imagine how someone could refer to these sensitive animals as happy.The impossibility of raising animals outside of factory farms and of killing them humanely. But what if Big Ag and small farmers actually did commit to pasture-raising each animal? It would be physically impossible to produce the amount of animal products currently being eaten by human beings that way. There is simply not enough land available to do it. The film Cowspiracy calculates that when a person commits to eating a plant-based diet, (compared to someone on the standard American diet) that one person saves 1100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life every single day. The “Facts” page on Cowspiracy.com includes mind-blowing statistics to show the destructive impact on the environment of eating animal products, regardless of what label is applied to the neatly wrapped package in the supermarket. Another good source of information is humanemyth.org. The over-arching dilemma that permeates all these issues is the simple, heart-wise, inner knowing that there is simply no way to kill an animal for meat humanely. Other oxymorons pale in comparison to “humane slaughter.”
“Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.” Thankfully, there is a logical and most rewarding solution to this dilemma. There is only one way to be certain that we are not supporting the agriculture industries that are simultaneously degrading the environment and causing immeasurable suffering, violence, and death to billions of animals all over the world. By committing to a nonviolent, vegan philosophy of life and a healthy plant-based diet, we do not have to concern ourselves with labels and ads or wonder if Whole Foods really does have compassion for animals. Regardless of whether an animal is raised in a factory farm or by a neighbor in a green pasture, that individual animal has been deprived of his or her right to live free and happy, to not be owned, to not be used, and ultimately to not be barbarically transported to slaughter and then mercilessly killed. In fact, we are being insulted by the industries that are attempting to convince us that meat, milk, and eggs can be produced humanely. As we reflect on the savagery of owning, abusing, mutilating, chaining to rape racks, confining, and killing, we see living beings who demonstrate at every slaughterhouse that they want to live just as much as we do. As Isaac Bashevis Singer stated: “As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together.”
© 2014, Judy Carman, M.A., is author of Peace to All Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul and co-author of The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of our Kinship with Animal;. 2014 winner of the Henry Spira Grassroots Animal Activist award; and owner of a truck and a car powered by used veggie oil and house powered by solar. Her primary websites are circleofcompassion.org and peacetoallbeings.com.