New York Times - Jan 21, 2015
The brilliance of Michael Moss’s much-discussed Times article, “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer In Quest For Profit,” speaks for itself. It’s a masterpiece of rigorous reporting that culminated in a story of animal abuse told from the rarest of perspectives: that of animals. In this piece, unlike in so much other reporting on agribusiness, animals mattered.
What also mattered was the corruption within the USDA and between the USDA and industry. Moss doesn’t deny these institutions—all complicit in the terrible treatment of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center—an opportunity to defend the horrors they instigated with minimal regulation. Rather, he allows the vacuity of their answers to stand on their own terms.
Notably, after documenting a wide array of federally-sponsored animal abuse, he ends his article with a line that says it all: “The center said it lacked the expertise to assess the pain felt by animals.” The lameness here is obvious, which I imagine is exactly what Moss intended.
The difficulty readers will most likely have with the article concerns the graphic nature of the content itself. Animals were serially operated on for experimental purposes by people without veterinary degrees; a cow was restrained by the head and persistently mounted by six bulls in rapid succession until her legs broke, she collapsed, and died; lambs were torn from their mothers and placed out in a desolate field to see how long it would take for them to be savaged by wolves; and so on. All in the name of increased productivity for agribusiness.
The critical point to remember here—and the lesson that I hope journalists covering agriculture will heed—is that humans execute such atrocities on animals all the time. What happened to the poor animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center might have been extreme, but it wasn’t anomalous.
Humans have permission to behave this way when they own animals. When an animal becomes property he becomes an object who is subject to sanctioned and unfathomable abuse. The abuse inflicted on the pigs, sheep, and cows at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center confirmed that point graphically, but every industrial farm that raises animals for food is complicit in the suffering that Michael Moss uncovered.
Every story on agribusiness needs to acknowledge this reality.