Friday, June 23, 2017

Bringing Accuracy and Context
to Animal Journalism

International Business Times Stuck on Old Animal Rights Stereotype

Rated: C

Article Review:

" US Agriculture Officials Call For Independent Review Amid Scandal Over Nebraska Meat Research Facility"

International Business Times  -  Jan 23, 2015

Terminology matters. The descriptions that reporters use to characterize various perspectives on an issue can carry connotations that reiterate stereotypes and reinforce misconceptions. This axiom is especially true when it comes to animal issues and the media.

A glaring example of such terminological confusion recently came in a brief article on the USDA’s reaction to Michael Moss’s powerful piece on its Meat Animal Research Center.

Writing in the International Business Times, Maria Gallucci, who essentially showcases the center’s promise to clean up its act, drops a notable gaffe a few paragraphs into the piece. She writes, “The Times investigation sparked outrage among animal rights advocates and average Americans.”

This sentence might seem innocuous. But it quietly perpetuates at least two popular misunderstandings, both of which are harmful for animals and those who aim to help them.

The first is that animal rights advocates hold a set of beliefs that are fundamentally distinct from mainstream thought. While the behaviors of animal advocates—vegetarianism, veganism, or overt protests again animal exploitation—often visibly separate them from “average Americans,” the main idea they espouse—that sentient animals deserve to be treated with basic moral consideration based on their ability to suffer—happens to be perfectly consistent with the beliefs of the vast majority of Americans. Average American care deeply about animals and hate to see them suffer.

They just don’t act consistently on those feelings—an important point that the author’s poorly chosen terminology obscures.

The second misunderstanding promoted by Gallucci’s sloppy sentence centers on the word “outrage.” Gallucci suggests that both “average Americans” and “animal rights activists” experienced “outrage” at the articles contents.

In fact each group experienced notably different kinds of outrage. “Average Americans” were outraged at the torture inflicted on animals at the Meat Animal Research Center. “Animal rights activists” were not the least bit shocked by the horrors revealed by Moss. Their outrage was, instead, over Moss’s implicit assumption that what he documented at the Meat Animal Research Center was somehow an anomaly.  Animal activists know that intense suffering and abuse pervade every link in the chain between farm and fork and, again, they behave in a manner that’s more closely consistent with that knowledge.

In the end, Gallucci’s casually drawn distinction between “average Americans” and “animal rights activists” obscures one group’s depth of familiarity with animal suffering and the other’s failure to understand the gap between ideas and action.

 

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3 Comments on International Business Times Stuck on Old Animal Rights Stereotype

  1. James, I understand what you are saying here but I’m not very
    convinced that the average American really cares about animal
    suffering on a mass scale as we know in the farm/ag industry.
    If they really cared would they not stop eating animal products.
    I know a lot of people that consider themselves animal advocates
    but most of their radar is on concerning themselves with homeless
    dogs and cats and
    pets in general. They still eat lots of meat, eggs, dairy but love
    to espouse how certain shelters kill too many dogs. I don’t think
    they really care about farm animals because their meat eating habits
    deny they think there is any real problem.

  2. Linda is absolutely right that there is a Great Chain of Being-style influence on how people prioritize animal welfare, even when they are well aware of how cruel the meat and dairy industries can be.
    I’ve been teaching about food politics in anthropology classes, and I’ve discovered a few things.
    One is that students are very open to hearing about these things, and that some education about farm/ag issues has been happening for them prior to college.
    So I think that there is a shift coming as they age, but also, something I discovered tends to motivate dietary change is tying in migrant labor issues to animal welfare issues. Since one my research areas involves U.S. immigration policy, I am quite conversant in how to explain the massive human abuses that occur in the meat and dairy industry. Once people understand that, and that the meat and dairy industries rely on undocumented labor to survive, people actually start to understand animal abuses in a more visceral way. When people learn that humans get chewed up along with the animals, they see farm animals in a new light.
    It is unfortunate that they do not see these animals as inherently worthy in the same way they do their family pets, but the making of these new connections does cause them to re-evaluate the lives of livestock. I think it also opens awareness about how much work has been done on farm/ag issues, so that people start to see that programs like the one in the NYT piece are indeed not exceptional.

  3. This article will help me to sort things out in future reading. Thanks for the work you are doing.

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