Mark Bittman on Proposed Big-Farm Film Ban: "The System is Already Gagged"

  Bittman has a great column this week about the ridiculous proposed laws to ban filming and photography at farms. Animal rights and sustainable food activists have embarrassed corporate farms by publishing footage of how corporate farms actually treat animals, and the disgusting and cruel conditions that they maintain (the footage is often shot by brave employees of the farm who are offended by what they see at work every day). In response, the food industry pushed legislators to just make it illegal to record what goes on in their facilities. The laws haven’t passed, but it’s still nearly impossible for journalists (or anyone else) to get into factory farms to see how things are run. Bittman tried, and was repeatedly refused.

When a journalist can’t see how the food we eat is produced, you don’t need ag-gag laws. The system’s already gagged.

The videographers that have made it into closed barns have revealed that eggs are laid and chickens are born and raised in closed barns containing (literally) hundreds of thousands of birds; an outsider wouldn’t even know what those barns were. Pigs are housed cheek-to-jowl, by the many thousands, in what are called concentrated animal feeding operations, where feeding, watering and monitoring are largely mechanized. Pregnant sows are confined in small concrete cells. Iowa is industrial agriculture’s ground zero. But when it comes to producing animals, zero is pretty much what you’re going to see.

Which would bring us a step closer to China, whose Health Ministry is trying to clamp down on news media outlets that “mislead” the public about food safety issues. (It’s worth noting, on the other hand, that the Chinese Supreme Court has called for the death penalty in cases of fatal food poisoning.) “Mislead” apparently means reporting about pork tainted with the banned drug clenbuterol, which sent a couple hundred wedding guests to the hospital; watermelons exploding from the overuse of chemicals; pork disguised as beef, or glowing blue; and — my favorite — cooking oil dredged from sewers. (Check my blog for the details.)

Our watermelons don’t explode and, for now, I can write about it. Yet when a heroic videographer breaks a horror story about animal cruelty, as happens every month or so, the industry writes off the offense as an isolated incident, and the perpetrators — usually the workers, who are “just following orders” — are fired or given wrist slaps. Business continues as usual, and it will until the public better understands industrial animal-rearing techniques.

And until the food industry stops intimidating journalists, suing anyone who speaks ill of them, and using their economic and political might to obliterate small ethical farmers.


Feministe / By Jill F

Posted at July 6, 2011, 6:17am

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