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Californians Have a Chance to Make the Lives of the Animals They Use a Little More Humane

The director of <i>Earthlings</i>, a powerful documentary on how human beings depend on other animals, discusses the potential of Prop 2.
 
 
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I have spent most of this past decade watching humankind's cruelty towards other Earthlings. I'm not an investigator for PETA or the Humane Society or even the US Department of Agriculture. I'm just a documentary filmmaker.

In 1999, I took a job to create a series of PSAs about spaying and neutering pets. The footage I shot at animal shelters around Los Angeles affected me so profoundly that this project evolved into Earthlings, a feature-length documentary. Earthlings is about how dependent we human beings are on animals in five key industries, one of which is industrial farm animal production. The film would take me almost six years to complete, partly because of the difficulty in obtaining footage from this highly secretive, heavily guarded business.

On November 4, California voters will make a decision on Proposition 2, " Standards for Confining Farm Animals," which addresses the use of veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages in factory farms. (These reforms would take effect in 2015, and do not address the treatment or slaughter of animals, only the size of the cages they live in until they are killed.) Proponents say Proposition 2 will alleviate animal suffering, increase food safety, give family farms a competitive edge against big agribusiness, and reduce pollution from factory farms. Opponents say it will be costly to businesses and consumers. Meanwhile, farm animals, lacking a PR machine of their own, have not been heard from.

In doing research for our film, I was exposed to more of the inside workings of these animal operations than I could ever forget or ignore. This is not to boast, but I've pored over hundreds of hours of footage showing that breeding, raising, and slaughtering animals for food is an ugly, violent practice. I studied thousands of pages of documentation to compile the facts, statistics and information that served as the script's central narrative thread, in order to present this sensitive issue in a way that educated viewers without alienating them.

When I was ready to release this film, distributors were adamantly opposed to it. One even told me the footage I included "should be swept under the rug." They are not alone. Even people who are conscious and compassionate by nature often prefer to ignore the barbaric reality of the use of animals for food. We don't live in a vacuum, disconnected from other Earthlings, no matter how comfortable and convenient it is to believe this. We live in a civilization, and this requires us to understand the impact of our choices on the rest of civilization.

The more destructive our choices are, the more we're compelled to examine and justify them. Most people would cringe to see the brutal treatment animals endure, particularly to the extent that I've seen, and this is a positive reaction, because it reminds us who we truly are. This response shows humanity. Of course, it's possible to ignore who we are, but in the long run that creates more discomfort and more inconvenience.

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Oregon have already acknowledged their humanity by passing bans on the types of crates that prevent calves and pregnant pigs from being able to sit, lie down, turn around, or stretch their bodies. California's proposition extends these same considerations to the 19 million egg-laying hens in battery cages like these in this recent undercover video from a Southern California egg operation. (Not surprisingly, the perpetrator of this atrocity is the leading contributor to the campaign against Prop 2.)

The three stages of truth are said to be ridicule, violent opposition, and acceptance. While we are nowhere near total acceptance, it's clear we have passed the stage of ridicule. Otherwise, legislation like Prop 2 would not be intellectually possible, nor would a film like ours have been as successful as it has been. When we make the connection between our actions and their impact on other Earthlings, we are able to make these kinds of changes that create a more humane, peaceful world.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

Shaun Monson's credits include the comedy Bad Actors, a certified Dogme 95 film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001. After 9/11 he directed a one-hour documentary on the Taliban called Holy War, Unholy Victory, hosted and narrated by Academy Award winning actor George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke). Shaun has also written several screenplays, a biopic on legendary filmmaker Orson Welles. Shaun spent five years making Earthlings for Nation Earth, a film production company dedicated to socially urgent issues, and is currently working on volume two of the Earthlings trilogy, entitled Unity.

 
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