Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Animal cruelty in egg production

Civil Eats has good coverage of the latest in a series of undercover video reports from animal rights groups about animal cruelty at production facilities. In this case, commercial egg production.

To me, the interesting thing is not just the images of cruelty. You can probably imagine that even without seeing the video. The more interesting question from a policy perspective is whether the video investigator can convince a skeptical viewer that the images are routine rather than exceptional. In this case, to my eye, the video is completely and successfully damning. The body language and tone of voice of the workers in the video say clearly, "this is all routine." This factory may be an unusually bad factory, but it is hard to believe the cruelty on camera is atypical in that factory.

Short of government regulation, one of the best ways to enforce humane treatment standards is through self-regulation and third-party monitoring. In that light, isn't this response in a pro-industry editorial in Dairy Herd Management foolish to emphasize that the factory in question had been certified as compliant by the egg industry's monitoring organization? If I were a food industry writer trying to stave off regulation, I certainly would not have emphasized that failure of self-regulation in this case!

The editorial is titled, "Secret Video Footage: Can You Protect Yourself?" The implication is that typical factories -- not just exceptionally cruel factories -- need to keep the public from understanding where its food comes from. If you were trying to stave off regulation, by implementing meaningful private-sector monitoring, is that the line of argument you would take?

No, these people themselves believe they have an awful thing to hide, and they want to hide it well.

Update: Okay, a comment points out that the editorial was not all bad, and I neglected the good parts because I suspected it of cynicism -- coded language where the talk about protecting animal welfare had a nudge and a wink. To give the full tenor, the editorial advises: "Maintain an employee handbook that strictly prohibits cruelty to animals, and enforce the rule on a “zero tolerance” basis."

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