Chris Christie Weighs Morality Against His Political Ambitions

“Yo, Chris. I know I don’t have a vote in Iowa, or a Super Pac. But sure would be nice to be able to move around a bit.”

 

The legislators of New Jersey have seen fit to ban cruel gestation crates for pigs, and the pig industry of Iowa demands a Christie vet. Its presidential ambition versus basic compassion and morality, with a deadline of Dec. 1, and I suspect I will not be surprised by which way Christie will go.

But Matthew Scully, a lonely and articulate voice on the right calling for compassion, weighs in with a plea for Christie to ignore the lies and spin he is being fed from Iowa and do the right thing:

Being immobilized for all of their existence, lying and living in their own urine and excrement, the sows are sick, sore, atrophied, usually lame, crazed or broken in spirit, and kept alive in these torments only by a massive and reckless use of steroids. The confinement of the sows, presented in terms of solicitude for the piglets, is among the causes of the welfare problem it purports to solve. And the piglets in any case are taken from their mothers in short order to begin their own lives of merciless confinement, mutilation, privation, and fear, in a process, from birth to slaughter, utterly devoid of human compassion.

I saw all of this myself once on a visit to a mass-confinement hog farm in North Carolina, the kind of investigative tour that would now be a crime in Iowa, taking in scenes that anyone not numbed to the sight of animal suffering would find abhorrent and deeply disturbing. (Let’s just say that Joni Ernst’s celebrated campaign ad, shot in a sunny, straw-filled showcase instead of a typical industrial hog farm, would have lost its sassy charm had the backdrop been the real thing.) The particular issue of the crates may seem a small matter, these extra few inches for a lowly pig, so miserable already and doomed to a nightmarish end. But that’s not a thought I’d stress if I were one of those guys from the National Pork Producers Council talking to Governor Christie. It only draws attention to the sheer pettiness, the unfeeling, unyielding, unchristian spirit, of anyone who would refuse so minimal a comfort to an afflicted animal.

If you and I made a living doing things like this to weak and defenseless creatures, we’d want to steer clear of legal scrutiny too, protesting against intrusions into our private commercial pursuits. But the argument that the bill on Governor Christie’s desk would constitute an undue regulatory burden on hog farmers, by directing the state board of agriculture to write new rules forbidding gestation crates, falls apart the moment you pause to think about it.

Yes, yes it does. And the unspeakable cruelty of industrial pig farming is not an issue that should be ignored for any political purpose.

PS: Here’s Jon Stewart’s take:

Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie

“Psst. I hear Christie might spring us.” “Nah. These days he cares more about what Iowa thinks than what New Jersey thinks.”

Want to know how you will be able to tell whether Chris Christie has decided to run for President in 2016? If he vetoes a widely popular law to ban gestation crates in New Jersey.

The Daily Beast explains:

In 2013, a measure to make illegal an inhumane farming practice made its way to Christie’s desk. S.1921 would have banned gestation crates—small, metal cages which are used to contain breeding sows during industrial pork production. There was no reason to assume Christie would veto it. For one thing, the cages—so small that the animals can barely move at all or lie down—were not even thought to be used much among the 250 pig farmers in the state, meaning the ban would be more of a symbolic gesture than one that would really impact farming methods. But more than that, the bill had passed almost unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was supported by 91 percent of voters, making it perhaps the most popular idea to be floated in the Garden State since Bruce Springsteen had been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame several years earlier.

When Christie vetoed the bill, he claimed that it was because two obscure national veterinarian groups had not endorsed it (although a coalition of 100 others had) and that the Department of Agriculture wasn’t involved enough. But many assumed that it had more to do with his dreams of the White House, for which he would need the support of voters and donors in Iowa—a pork manufacturing wonderland—to obtain.

“Why wouldn’t he [Christie] ban them, except for the fact that the first Republican presidential caucus is in Iowa?” S.1921’s sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak, told me at the time. “He has no values. His only value is himself.” He repeated it again, slowly: “He has no valuesHe has no moral compass whatsoever.”

A year later, Lesniak is back with another bill to ban the crates—S.998…Per Christie’s complaint, the new bill defers to the Department of Agriculture, and simply asks that breeding sows be able to move in their crates—not that they should be able to roam freely through fields. “For us, there should be no reason for him to veto [the new bill], if he was being honest with his reason for vetoing it last year,” Dominguez said, with an eyebrow raised. “The one out that he has is that he said he had a concern, and we’ve addressed it. He has no reason to veto this bill.”

Well, maybe one: Continue reading “Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie”

The (Orwellian) Language Of Pig Farming

Last week Mercy For Animals released typically horrifying video from an undercover investigation of pig farming. The video is below, but steel yourself, because this is what it shows:

MFA’s hidden-camera video exposes the following horrific abuses:

  • Thousands of mother pigs confined to filthy, metal gestation crates so small they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
  • Workers beating, throwing, slapping, hitting and screaming obscenities at pigs
  • Workers slamming piglets into the ground and leaving them to suffer and slowly die
  • Workers ripping out the testicles and slicing off the tails of fully conscious piglets without the use of any painkillers

It’s hard to believe that anyone who still eats pork isn’t aware on some level that this is what is behind the cheap bacon that they love to celebrate. But maybe there are bacon-lovers who somehow just have no clue. And if there are, then perhaps part of the explanation for how this can be is the startling and twisted use of language that Big Meat uses to try and sanitize its operations for the public.

It’s positively Orwellian, and the New York Time Lede blog comes up with a classic example, courtesy of Luke Minion, CEO of the agribusiness which owns the farm depicted:

Luke Minion, the chief executive of Pipestone Systems, which owns the Rosewood Farm and others, said in an interview that he fired one employee and reassigned another as a result of the activists’ investigation. “There are things depicted on the video that are not defensible nor are they our policies,” Mr. Minion said. “We want to be better than what’s on that video.”

Mr. Minion, a trained veterinarian, also said that castrating piglets and docking their tails without anesthesia is normal procedure and defended the gestation crates, which he called “individual maternity pens.” The crates, he said, “are an appropriate option.” He added, “We who raise the livestock ought to be able to keep that choice.”

“Individual maternity pens?” But that sounds kinda nice. And note Mr. Minion’s sly positioning of the issue of gestation crates as a question of “options” and “choice” for the farms. Options and choices are about freedom, right? And we all love freedom, right?

This is the familiar language of PR and spin, which has long been used by Big Tobacco and Big Oil, among other industries, to anesthetize the sometimes willing and often gullible public to the reality of their businesses.

It also known as the Big Lie. But even the Big Lie can’t survive the persistence of video truth. So good for MFA for continuing to shock us all with the rampant cruelty tat takes place behind the guarded walls.

Tale Of A Pig Farmer Redeemed (Sort Of)

It’s still pig farming, and that never works out well for the pigs in the end. But it’s nice to see there are farmers who elevate morality and compassion above the pure profit lure of agribusiness:

To get more profit from the land, which his family had farmed for five generations, [Russ] Kremer erected a long, low warehouse-like building and cycled 2,400 hogs a year through his operation. It wasn’t pretty. The sows that produced his piglets spent their entire lives confined to gestation and farrowing crates — metal enclosures barely larger than the animals themselves, which barely allowed them to move. The piglets grew up cheek by jowl in metal pens. Stressed and sickly, the animals were fed a constant diet of commercial feed laced with low levels of antibiotics. Slatted concrete floors allowed their excrement to drop into a vast pit below the barn. Massive fans pushed out poisonous gasses from the pit. In the mid-1980s, a thunderstorm struck in the predawn hours of a Sunday morning, knocking out power. Within a few hours, more than 200 hogs suffocated from the gas. Instead of going to church that morning, Kremer dug a pit and buried them.

“Raising pigs like that was the worst mistake I ever made,” he says.

That’s partly because Kremer was almost killed by an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection that he helped nurture with his factory farm methods. But Kremer also found that there was another way to be a pig farmer:

So Kremer did the unthinkable: he bought new pigs and began to raise them without antibiotics. “I went cold turkey. Everyone I talked to told me I was crazy,” he said. “All my pigs would die.”

They were wrong. The first drug-free year, Kremer saved $16,000 in veterinary bills, and his hogs flourished. Unfortunately, the hog market collapsed in the late 1990s. One after the other, small family hog farmers in the county went out of business, often unable to sell pigs at any price to slaughterhouses designed to handle thousands of animals a day.

To survive, Kremer had to reinvent his approach to farming a second time. He and 33 other hog producers formed the Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative to market their meat directly to commercial customers at premium prices. Members agreed to abide by a set of strict regulations: no antibiotics would be fed to the pigs. The animals had to have access to pasture. Their diet would consist of unadultered corn, soy, and oats. Sows could not be confined to crates. At slaughter, Ozark pigs would be killed painlessly after being rendered insentient by carbon dioxide gas. “I called it retro hog raising,” Kremer says.

I’d prefer if no one would raise pigs for slaughter, but if they are going to do so I’d prefer that they farm pigs like Kremer does. Kremer’s coop has grown to about 60 farmers and he is wise enough to stop there.

His story inspired this video (made by Chipotle which was inspired to buy Kremer’s pork), and hopefully it will inspire some other hog farmers:

Undercover Factory Farm Investigations Have Impact

For anyone who thinks that taking hidden cameras into factory farms is all about fund-raising and publicity, instead of stopping cruelty, tell that to the nine workers at Wyoming Premium Farms who were fired, and the five who were just convicted of multiple accounts of animal cruelty.

Via Mercy For Animals, here’s the Wyoming Business Report:

April 11, 2013 —

WHEATLAND – Five employees from Wyoming Premium Farms have each been convicted on multiple counts of cruelty to animals after a Humane Society of the United States undercover investigation documented acts of animal abuse. The five convicted workers are: Patrick Ruckavina, Richard Pritekel, Edward Pritekel, Kali Oseland and David Bienz.

A total of nine employees were charged in late December. All were terminated from their jobs at the farm by the time charges were filed.
In addition to the five convictions, according to a deputy clerk at Platte County Circuit Court, three cases – against Kyla Adams, Jarrod Juarez and Steve Perry – are still pending.  Shawn Colson, the former assistant manager of the farm who faced seven counts of animal cruelty, is currently considering a deal offered by the court.

The abuse, which was captured on video and became a sensation on YouTube last May, led to food giant Tyson Foods severing its relationship with the farm.

The investigation documented Wyoming Premium workers kicking live piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, striking mother pigs with their fists and repeatedly and forcefully kicking them as they resisted leaving their young, among other abuses.

Mercy For Animals notes Wyoming’s unfortunately typical response to the sort of abuse depicted:
Confining pigs in gestation crates so small they can’t even turn around is so patently cruel the practice has been banned in nine US states, and nearly 50 major food providers, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Oscar Mayer, Jimmy Dean, and Bon Appetit, have committed to ending the use of these cruel crates in their pork supply chains.

Yet, rather than improve conditions for pigs and other farmed animals, pro-factory farm legislators in Wyoming and some other states are trying to outlaw investigations that uncover cruelty to animals and other criminal activities at factory farms and slaughterhouses. These legislators don’t want to stop animal abuse; they just want to stop consumers from finding out about it.

In January, the Wyoming House of Representatives introduced House Bill 126. If passed, this bill would make it a crime to “knowingly or intentionally” record images at a factory farm without the owner’s consent, effectively outlawing the type of undercover work that led to the criminal convictions of these five workers at Wyoming Premium Farms.

Here’s the Humane Society video that led to the convictions and to Tyson’s abandonment of Wyoming Premium Farms. Yes, it is very hard to watch, but that is the point. I’d say we need more videos like it, not criminalization of the folks who have the guts to show the world what is happening behind the walls.

Did China’s Meat Production Practices Create The Possibility Of A New Pandemic?

Laurie Garrett (free sign-up required) at Foreign Policy thinks the answer may be, “yes”:

Here’s how it would happen. Children playing along an urban river bank would spot hundreds of grotesque, bloated pig carcasses bobbing downstream. Hundreds of miles away, angry citizens would protest the rising stench from piles of dead ducks and swans, their rotting bodies collecting by the thousands along river banks. And three unrelated individuals would stagger into three different hospitals, gasping for air. Two would quickly die of severe pneumonia and the third would lay in critical condition in an intensive care unit for many days. Government officials would announce that a previously unknown virus had sickened three people, at least, and killed two of them. And while the world was left to wonder how the pigs, ducks, swans, and people might be connected, the World Health Organization would release deliberately terse statements, offering little insight.

It reads like a movie plot — I should know, as I was a consultant for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. But the facts delineated are all true, and have transpired over the last six weeks in China. The events could, indeed, be unrelated, and the new virus, a form of influenza denoted as H7N9, may have already run its course, infecting just three people and killing two.

Or this could be how pandemics begin.

We all know (or at least by now should know) about the cruelty and environmental impact of industrial meat production. And we know that there are personal health implications related to heart disease. What most people don’t know is that factory farms and modern livestock practices create ripe scenarios for new viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria. The H7N9 virus may turn out not to be the pandemic health experts have feared might emanate from livestock. But even if it is not, it is a reminder that we have knowingly created conditions which probably will at some point produce a deadly pandemic. A definite “reap what you sow” situation, and an example of a modern threat that is much more worrisome than all the traditional threats (terrorism, for example) that we tend to spend time and money on.

This is yet another powerful reason that vegetarian and vegan practices would make for a lot safer, more inhabitable, planet in the future. (h/t Earth In Transition, for flagging Garrett’s piece).

Just one more environmental note on China, and an example of why China might end up wondering whether it was really so wise to try and emulate the western development and consumption model. Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China:

Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide.

Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population.

That’s a big price to pay, no matter how you look at it.

Meat Is Killing The Planet: A River Full of Pigs

I know, I know. You can’t take any more grotesque meat news. Well, it is what it is, so deal with it next time you are tucking into a pulled pork sandwich.

The latest installment in this cringe-inducing series comes from China, where the public, though it doesn’t mind a few dead pigs floating in Shanghai’s rivers, is not very happy about 6,000 dead pigs floating by. Here’s the Washington Post:

When hundreds of porcine bodies started surfacing this weekend in rivers upstream from the city, it prompted only mild shock, showing perhaps how routine safety scares about food and water have become in China.

But worries turned to panic late Tuesday, when authorities revealed that the number of pigs pulled out of waterways had climbed in the course of three days to an astonishing 5,916.

Shanghai officials pleaded for calm and insisted drinking water for Shanghai’s 23 million residents is still safe. They said there is no disease epidemic at cause. Instead they pointed their fingers at farmers in a nearby city of Jiaxing, who they say are dumping pigs who die in the course of their farming into the Huangpu River instead of properly burying or incinerating them. Local authorities near the pig farms in turn blamed their recent spike in dead pigs on colder temperatures, which they say caused the pigs to freeze or catch colds.

But all such explanations have been met online with equal measures of skepticism, anger and gallows humor, with some residents joking that perhaps the pigs killed themselves after refusing to breathe China’s increasingly polluted air or in protest of being force fed hormones and antibiotics.

Just another indication that of all the meat production industries, pig farming is the worst.

In case the above words don’t adequately convey what is happening, here’s a video report.