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The dignity, religious and social context of the ethics of raising animals for food

While a simple question of ethics in farming may seem straightforward, the question of what is (or is not) ethical — especially when dealing with the food animal industry — depends largely on your point of view and reaches deeper than the simple comfort of an animal. With a background in ethics education spanning nearly three decades, Nelson Kloosterman of Worldview Resources International led the Wednesday plenary at the 2012 Banff PorkSeminar by speaking directly to the animal food industry on preserving ethics and dignity while battling the PR war being waged against the industry by powerful the animal rights lobby. The message spread by these groups, according to Kloosterman, is that cruelty is an integral part of the animal food industry. and choosing a meatless diet is an integral part of living a moral and just life. Kloosterman has been countering this with a different message, aimed directly to the food producers themselves by urging producers to take pride in their craft instead of merely seeing themselves as cogs in a vast food production network.


“For the past several years, as an advocate for those who raise animals for food, I have been encouraging food producers with a message that I hope many will find helpful and inspiring,” he states. “That message celebrates the dignity of raising animals for food — at the core of the message is the notion of stewardship.” Kloosterman says animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) are just as effective at targeting media with their message as they are with consumers — primarily blurring the lines between animal welfare and animal rights. “All of us ought to be in favor of animal welfare,” Kloosterman explains. “The problem is that the organizations I have identified, PETA and HSUS, slide over these terms. They use terms like animal welfare when in fact they are defending animal rights.” Kloosterman said animal rights groups typically utilize three tools in spreading this message — children, religion, and language — to create what he calls an ideology of food tyranny.


Animal rights groups often use a three-pronged approach for targeting propaganda at children — not only directly, but through people Kloosterman referred to as mindmakers. “The mindmakers are anyone who teaches schoolchildren — anyone who shapes the intellect or communicates public information and knowledge,” he said. “These folks teach children about what happens on farms, and provide them with alternative world views that reject the legitimacy of eating meat.

Veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise, not only in North America but around the world as well – ideas rooted in a worldview that offers a competing story about animal welfare and wellbeing.” PETA’s website is full of fun games and activities specially designed to appeal to and influence children. One powerful tactic is what Kloosterman calls the petification of animals – equating farm animals to household pets. This is especially effective with children, especially when one realizes the emotional power of the realization that last night's roast beef dinner could've just as easily been the beloved family cat. The demonization of animal-based agriculture is also well covered, with PETA's curriculum containing heavy emphasis on teaching children that farmers regularly abuse their animals as part of their daily chores, painting agricultural workers as mere cogs in a giant gearwork of animal suffering that is the modern food production industry. Kloosterman also said the imposition of intergenerational conflict has also proved useful. “The not-so-subtle message is that older people ‘just don’t get it’,” Kloosterman said. “The older generation is part of the problem, and the younger generation has the solution.”


Religion has become a popular tool for animal right groups, Kloosterman said, with organizers developing faith-based resources targeting Sunday schools, youth groups and even adult ministries. Aiding animal rights groups is an increased level of ignorance about religion in today’s society. “I was chatting with someone about the recent election of the Pope, and I pointed out how most people in the media seem to lack categories for understanding, analyzing, and reporting the election of a new Pope as a spiritual reality, a spiritual process, and a spiritual endeavor,” he explains. “The problem is that the public is fed by the media’s ignorance, inability, and incompetence when it comes to matters of religion.” He said this religious illiteracy goes hand in hand with an ignorance towards what he calls the animal stewardship industry. Workers should understand how terms like stewardship and vocation apply to their day to day lives in order to be reassured that what they do is both noble and necessary. “In a conversation I had with somebody with whom I debated this issue, he told me rather confidently that Jesus was a vegetarian,” Kloosterman recalls. “This person apparently did not know that Jesus ate the Passover lamb, and ate fish, and even multiplied fish for others to eat. Jesus was not opposed to eating animals.” Kloosterman said this person was convinced killing of animals for food is frowned upon by God, an opinion contrary to scripture in several specific cases. For example, Kloosterman refers to a parable in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus cast demons out of a possessed man into a herd of 2,000 pigs.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. — Mark 5:13 (NIV)

Several books later, Acts 10 spoke of Christ's rejection of the Old Testament dietary laws, ordering Peter to “rise, kill and eat” animals that were until then forbidden to eat. In an effort to further muddy the waters of religion and animal rights, PETA made an attempt to remove what they call speciesist animal pronouns in the New International Version of the Bible — efforts soundly rejected by the translation committee. PETA’s intention was to change animal references from ‘it’ to the human pronouns 'he' and 'she' — an attempt to implant the personification of animals directly into scripture. The use of religious language is common with animal rights groups, with Kloosterman citing the popular “Thou shalt not kill. Go vegetarian” bumper sticker — an attempt to mix Judeo-Christian ideology with PETA’s supposition that animals and humans are equal beings, he says.

He cites other stickers that equate the eating of meat as a violation of Christ’s redemption and comparing a vegan lifestyle to the immaculate conception.

“If you think for a moment that these slogans are innocuous or benign, you need to realize that many people are coming under the influence of this use of religion in service to animal rights,” he said, citing comments from PETA’s own executive that say achieving animal equality will involve proselytizing to North America’s faith community. Bruce Freidrich, a campaign director for PETA, said America's strong faith communities would make it "unlikely we’ll achieve animal liberation without mobilizing Jewish and Christian progressives, and perhaps also many of the conservatives." Kloosterman maintains the introduction of religious imagery in rights' groups messaging is meant to groom North America’s faith community to further disseminate their propaganda — which, he says, seems to be working. Many prominent evangelical Christian leaders have jumped onto the animal rights bandwagon as a religious crusade, he said.

A two minute video produced by the Humane Society of the United States and widely available on YouTube uses seemingly credible presenters to legitimize the biblical value of the animal rights movement. Kloosterman points out several tried and true tactics in the video — the most prominent being the conspicuous use of children.

The video also makes use of anthropomorphization by assigning human characteristics to animals in order to create empathy, a practical application of the previously-discussed petification.

This connection, Kloosterman says, is the most powerful propaganda tool the animal rights groups have in their arsenal designed for but one purpose: to put the food animal industry out of business.


Manipulating language is quite possibly the most effective method rights' groups use to spread their message. Groups create their own vocabulary to spread messaging that today’s food industry is nothing more that organized tyranny. Those who feed us this information, said Kloosterman, aren’t concerned with current — or even accurate — information. “Often those who purvey, sell or promote ideology about animal farming are the least informed about the reality of the industry,” he said. “This is why ideology possesses an unrealistic or idealistic nature.” Referred to by Kloosterman as storytellers, their messaging is readily eaten up, characterized by what he calls “manipulation, coercion and violence”. “I don’t think I need to illustrate for animal producers how their industry is being assailed, ambushed, and attacked by these storytellers in ways that can be characterized as manipulative with regard to information and reality.” he explains. “These accounts and their resulting recommendations are coercive because they want to force, compel, and tyrannize people into submission. This can be accompanied by violence as well.” Animal rights groups often use slogans made popular by other causes.

As with their religious bumper stickers, PETA’s Eating meat stops a beating heart, Pro life? Go vegetarian and Animals are little people in fur coats slogans draw inspiration from another contentious social issue: abortion. “From a moral, ethical point of view, they are making a statement of moral equivalence between killing a

child in the womb and killing a pig for dinner,” Kloosterman says. “The premise of the slogan is that those actions are equally immoral.” The infamous little people in fur coats bumper sticker roots its insidiousness in a cloak of cuteness, he said. The equation of animal rights versus civil rights is another popular tactic, a popular example being PETA's comparison of the pork industry with the North American slave trade. Kloosterman said this demonstrates that the animal rights movement is more concerned with their message than good taste. “I would like to ask the rhetorical question, ’How does the comparison with pigs as slaves make an African-American feel?’” he said. “What (blacks) endured as part of the sad, regrettable, despicable history of slavery is being compared to factory farming, raising pigs, cows, and chickens for slaughter today. In my judgment, this goes way beyond the boundaries of proper moral discourse.”


Battling these persuasive messages requires an alternative that resonates with those who make the food industry what it is — the workers. The key to this is assuring workers that, despite popular opinion, there is a real and tangible dignity in what they do.

“I want to suggest that to use an animal is not to exploit an animal,” Kloosterman explains. “We have got to be clear on our definitions and terms. Proper use is not exploitation. We also have to be very clear—and this is where your storytellers, message-makers, and industry spokespeople have to be explicit and clear—that animal welfare and animal rights are two different things.” Kloosterman establishes that welfare and rights are not as interchangeable as the activists believe. While the welfare of animals should be at the forefront of anybody involved, giving animals the same rights as humans is a dangerous road. “We need to be clear on the difference between animal welfare and animal rights,” he explains. “If we are going to be clear in our response to our critics, to the activists, and to those whose goal is to put us out of business, then we must distinguish between pets and food animals.” Going forward, Kloosterman recommends the industry should adopt what he calls comprehensive transparency. “By this, I am suggesting that you need to be confident enough about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re doing it, to let other people in the barn to watch you at work,” he says, adding that the ag-gag laws that prevent rights groups from smuggling hidden camera footage out of food processing facilities demonstrates the need for transparency.

He also credits agritourism as a means of introducing the public (namely children) to the side of agriculture that PETA tends to exclude from their learning materials. He speaks of several successful farms in the United States that show schoolchildren what life on the farm is really like, allowing visitors to interact with animals and see first hand how they fit into the food production chain. Some even allow children to witness the live birth of calves – observed from glassed-in mezzanines that show real=life farm workers going about their daily business. Other organizations install live webcams for public viewing.

Kloosterman recommends that the industry move toward a platform of public service over advocacy. “This doesn’t mean that industry advocacy is unimportant, or that you should ignore legislative initiatives that affect the animal food industry,” he clarified. “In terms of the public image, the industry needs to move beyond simply serving the producers to serving the public.”


A shift in thinking has overtaken the agricultural industry, he said — one that puts demands of customers in the forefront. The pork industry’s switch from gestation crates to group pens, for example, was driven by the demands of the market — what Kloosterman calls the pink backhoe perspective. “I have a friend who is a construction project manager, with whom I discuss debates like gestation crates versus group pens,” he said. “He clarified for me the real issue when he said, ‘If I'm bidding a construction job and the specs require I use a pink backhoe to dig a hole, I’m going to get a pink backhoe.’” He said the purpose of the pork industry is to serve the people, rather than simply raising animals for food. “The people are the endusers, and if they’re not happy, nobody is happy,” he says. “You have to decide as an industry between simply raising animals for food or serving people with your product.” Kloosterman also suggested partnerships with animal science educators. Including sound, empirical science to the industry’s message is effective in countering rights groups' manipulation and coercion. “They’ve been able to capture the moral high ground because they are being assisted by academics and others who know how to craft the message,” he said. “The industry needs message-makers and communicators — people who are able to meet the opposition on their turf with language, definitions, ideas, and concepts.” All this comes at a cost, however. Kloosterman suggests that the industry needs to commit funds to fund advocacy programs of their own. This requires an attitude shift from producers, Kloosterman said. The pork industry needs to adopt what he calls a confident identity, emphasizing stewardship, vocation and dignity. This serves not only to represent the industry in a positive light, but also stand up to the barrage of misinformation coming from a well-practiced, well-funded and well-spoken opposition. After all, the ultimate goal of the rights groups isn't on improving the welfare of farm animals, Kloosterman said, but the complete and total dismantlement of the world's animal food industry.

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