Doublespeak

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Doublespeak

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to write a post about this message I got on twitter the other day. But, since it was sent to me publicly, I guess it’s ok to write about it and make it more public.

For some time I’ve been conversing on twitter with a pig and soy farmer from Iowa, who goes by the name foodprovider, about animal rights and animal agriculture. We’re quite obviously on opposite sides of the issue. He is a large-scale farmer of pigs, and supports the use of confinement systems, etc.

Anyway, after this tweet:

If they don’t have anything to hide then why?: Farm Bureaus Warn About Undercover Investigations http://ow.ly/awOQ

He responded:

Family farmers R not hiding wht they R doing. R protecting R animals. We dont wnt 2 exploit R animals. U shld understand that.

Now, normally I kind of chuckle when people say things like this, but for some reason this got under my skin a little bit. I mean, what do the words he is saying mean?

First off, note that he considers his farm a “family farm”. We need to be careful and not fall into the trap of “family farms vs. factory farms”. Many intensive confinement operations are owned by a single family and run by a handful of people. With intensive farming, this is very possible. I don’t know if he is part of a larger farm co-operative or if he has contracts to only sell his pigs to a larger company. But, do keep in mind that family farm does not mean anything more than that it is owned by a family.

Then he says that they are not hiding anything. This could be relatively true. He does have a picture of a pig in a sow stall as his twitter avatar. [[note: since posting this, Foodprovider has changed his avatar photo]] But he would not point me to any other photos of his farm, and I’d bet he doesn’t have video footage available of the artificial insemination process, castration, tooth trimming, or even of the rows of confined pigs. It’s incredibly difficult to get footage of the insides of these farms.

If they really aren’t hiding anything, then why aren’t they showing everything?

Next he claims they are protecting their animals. I guess he must mean that they are protecting them from outside diseases and infections (from uninvited guests sneaking in to take pictures). Which I guess makes sense since he needs to protect his “investment”. Protecting the animals from potential infection by confining them on concrete and never letting them see the sun or root around in the dirt seems pretty extreme to me. It would be like putting your children in bubbles so they won’t get sick.

But now it gets really weird. He says that they don’t want to exploit their animals. I’m not sure I even understand what he means by this. When we raise an animal to kill them we are exploiting them. We are taking advantage of them in a hugely unequal relationship. The pigs get nothing out of this except for 6 months of living in one single spot, getting castrated without anesthesia, having their tails cut off, then being packed into trucks and slaughtered. How is that not exploiting them?

I can only guess that he’s not aware of what the word “exploit” means.Dictionary.com defines it so:

1. to utilize, esp. for profit; turn to practical account: to exploit a business opportunity.
2. to use selfishly for one’s own ends: employers who exploit their workers.

Any kind of animal agriculture exploits animals. It’s what animal agriculture is.

And no, I don’t understand it at all.


10 Comments

Stephanie E.

June 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

I’m so glad you wrote this, for multiple reasons. I was watching this frustrating conversation, and I’m glad you’ve written a more detailed response than Twitter allows.

And I’ll be referring back to this post, if you don’t mind, when I write a post of my own in the next couple days that relates to some of what you wrote–in particular, “family farms.” When I called into a radio show yesterday, part of my reason was to make just this point–that it was problematic that the guests kept talking about “corporate” farms versus “family” farms when “family farm” is a pretty meaningless term. Family farms and factory farms are easily and often the same thing.

And you’re a better person than I to keep engaging with @foodprovider. I gave up a long time ago. I think he probably unfollowed me, actually.

Michael A. Weber

June 4, 2009 at 11:34 am

Haha, ditto at Stephanie’s last two sentences. I totally stopped responding. I couldn’t do it.

(Plus I was kind of told to stop engaging anti-AR people on Twitter under FARM’s account, haha)

Glenn

June 4, 2009 at 11:34 am

Thanks Stephanie! The whole family farm vs. factory farm dichotomy has seemed troublesome to me for a while (not least because it is pushed by supporters of “humane” and “ethical” meat, milk, and eggs). We can talk about factory farms, we can talk about the treatment of animals on these farms, but what in the world is a “family farm”?

I look forward to your post on the subject (but I always look forward to your posts 🙂 ).

Ed Coffin

June 5, 2009 at 4:50 am

Well said! I missed this little debate on Twitter.

I also don’t get what he means about not wanting to exploit the animals. Maybe he means that at heart nobody wants to exploit an animal, but when we have to make the decision between profit and exploitation, most of us choose profit over ethics. Just a thought.

I also agree that as a movement we need to stop comparing factory vs. family farms. It’s slaughter either way and if we don’t even have the resources to sustain conditions at the factory farming level, we’d be very foolish to believe we could sustain an entire planet on a “free-range,” organic, “family farm.”

Joanne

June 5, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I guess this guy protects animals like a slave owner protects his slaves or like a pimp protects his prostitutes. He feeds and houses the pigs in exchange for their lives. The pigs certainly don’t have a say in this relationship.

dawnofanewera

June 9, 2009 at 1:08 am

If this is the new meaning of family then I’m flyin’ solo!

Keeping an animal in ‘good’ condition until it can reach its most lucrative potential is not taking care of it. Mothers aren’t supposed to be separated from their young by steel bars.

march

June 9, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I personally know Foodprovider, you will not find a better ethical, moral, Christian family anywhere. You make many assumptions but yet show no facts or proof behind any of them. My advice would be to contact Foodprovider and my guess is he would be glad to show you his operation and the how and why of the things he does. Most people who farm for a living don’t have enough time to give tours and make movies because they are at home minding their own business and doing their work.

By the way they are a “family farm” that owns their animals and grows all their own feed, then using organic fertilzer from their animals to grow another corn crop. This is what is called the cycle of life.

farmboy1258

June 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm

you dont have the brains to even try to understand farming methods and what farmers intentions are. you wanna bitch a little more about farming here in the united states, you’ll be eating meat from fareway from overseas.

Glenn

June 9, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Hi March, thanks for leaving a comment. I’m sorry if you feel that assumptions are being made about Foodprovider. I had tried very hard to not make any assumptions, but wrote only about what I know and what I’ve learned from speaking with him. This wasn’t a personal attack on him or anything, and I would certainly imagine that you are correct when you say that he is ethical, moral, and Christian. I would like to see photos of his farm (beyond just the avatar photo of the sow in her stall separated from her piglets).

I know that their farm is family-owned and operated. That was one of my points: the ownership of the farm, whether family or corporate, doesn’t really mean anything for the animals involved. They can be raised just as intensively, never seeing the outdoors, never getting to be what they would be in nature, on a family farm as a large, corporate-owned farm.

I had no idea that his farm was an organic farm. I had been under the impression that it was not. Unless by organic you just mean not synthetic. In that case, it would only make sense to do that. Where else could all that manure go?

I think it would be great if we could see how all of our food is produced. There is no reason that we couldn’t have video installed to ensure proper treatment of animals and health and safety of the workers. Fishing boats in certain regions here in BC have cameras installed to ensure that they are not exceeding quotas of fish, etc. I spoke to a pig farmer here as well who told me that there are cameras to record the unloading of their pigs at the slaughterhouse. If animals are treated well, then why not show it? Don’t consumers have a right to know where there food comes from and what sort of life it had?

Glenn

June 9, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for the comment farmboy.
1) I don’t eat meat (which should be obvious from the rest of this blog)
2) I am in Canada, not the US (but that’s a mistake Americans often make, assuming that they are the centre of the world)
3) I appreciate you telling me that I don’t understand farming methods or what their intentions are. Maybe you’d be willing to enlighten me?

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