Given Recent Innovations, Maybe We Don’t Need To Eat Or Use Animals At All
Above photo: Direct Action Everywhere.
Factory farming model incorporates abuses, so we need to adopt something radically new.
I’m currently facing a felony prosecution in Wright County after exposing Iowa Select Farms killing thousands of pigs via “ventilation shutdown,” which involves shutting down a building’s vents as heat and steam are pumped in. The practice was so egregious that employees at the company sought the support of Direct Action Everywhere, the animal rights group I organize with, in exposing and ultimately stopping it.
As recently reported by the Intercept, a high-level executive at the company was fired for raising his concerns, and FBI agents were called in to try to flip a whistleblower into becoming an informant against us. It’s all part of a long-term pattern: government support for an abusive and environmentally destructive industry, even to the point of intimidating and silencing its critics.
Concerned citizens, including Iowa Select Farms’ own employees, are willing to risk serious personal and professional consequences to shine some much-needed light on abuses to workers, animals, and the environment.
- Even Iowa Select’s normal practices in stocking pigs at its facilities create hazards in terms of air and water pollution, in addition to animal welfare. Employees who seek changes within the company are often punished. Their complaints to the Department of Natural Resources have been brushed off without even a pretense about taking enforcement action.
- This is not surprising because Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Iowa Select Farms owners Jeff and Deb Hansen. Documents we obtained through open records act requests show an uncomfortably close relationship between the governor and these industry executives, including her willingness to immediately drop other responsibilities to the people of Iowa when Iowa Select had a concern. But even employees were shocked when Reynolds seemingly wasn’t bothered by ventilation shutdown — a practice widely decried as barbaric even within the agricultural industry. Then two weeks after our exposé was released, she signed a new “ag-gag” statute into law, which criminalizes undercover videography in animal agriculture facilities.
- Iowa Select Farms implemented ventilation shutdown following widespread slaughterhouse shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks, creating a backup of pigs in the supply chain. Our heartbreaking video and audio captured pigs shrieking in nonstop terror for well over an hour. But while national media reported on our findings, Reynolds and her administration ignored the issue, calling our work “disgusting” and falsely claiming that outsiders were “kicking our farmers while they are down.” In fact, I am an Iowa native whose family members are involved in animal agriculture. And the whistle-blowers we work with are the very farmers that Reynolds claims we were targeting. Reynolds was supporting corporate Big Ag, not farmers, in allowing a brutal industrial practice.
This systemic misconduct extends well beyond the borders of my home state. Despite its record, animal agriculture is minimally regulated: Animal cruelty laws often exempt farmed animals, and there are no federal animal welfare laws at all for over 95% of animals we use for food. The industry also receives tens of billions of dollars annually in federal subsidies via the farm bill, plus billions more in COVID-19-related subsidies over the past year, including reimbursement for mass killings such as ventilation shutdown.
These abuses are appalling to any reasonable person — across political party affiliations, living in all parts of this country, and even among this industry’s own employees. So why do such injustices persist?
The common intuition that we need only to clean up specific instances of abuse is comforting, but exposé after exposé of industry misconduct demonstrates that such a belief simply doesn’t map onto reality. It’s the very business model of factory farming — which accounts for 99% of animals used for food in the US — that is founded upon a fundamental lack of respect for animals, our planet, and the people in local communities. Animals’ desire to behave naturally and not suffer, not to mention local communities’ concerns about pollution and disease, are ignored in a laser-focused pursuit of profit.
We must dig deeper, then, and fundamentally question a system that makes something as horrifying as ventilation shutdown even possible. The flaw lies not in isolated incidents of individuals acting reprehensibly, but in a society (and industry) that treats living, feeling individuals as mere commodities to exploit for profit.
Maybe, in a country and in an era of incredible ingenuity and innovation — with lab-grown “clean meats,” vertical farming, and the like — we don’t need to eat or use animals at all.
Matt Johnson is an investigator with the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere. The Cresco native has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and served in the Iowa Army National Guard from 2009 to 2015 before moving to California to follow his passion for animal advocacy.