Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Finger-pointing for Absolution: A Few Words about the Four Corners Story

Four Corners

For the past few days, animal advocates across the internet have been discussing
the recent so-called expose "of the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle exported to the slaughterhouses of Indonesia". The story broke on May 30 when the ABC (i.e. Australian Broadcasting Corporation) television program "Four Corners" aired a program containing undercover footage of the cows fattened in Australian-approved feedlots and then slaughtered in Australian-approved slaughterhouses by Australian-trained Indonesian workers. I have not seen the footage, myself, for the same reason I don't gawk at accident scenes -- I've no doubt that it's completely awful.

Judging by the hundreds of related news articles from around the world covering this story (along with thousands of readers' comments left in response to those articles) and that the link to the story has been shared just short of 7000 times on Facebook and all over other social networking sites, it's evident that even the non-vegan general public is outraged. The story has gotten enough attention that the expression "treated like Indonesian cattle" has now even started being used to describe the grossly ill treatment of humans.

Follow the Money

much of the focus is being placed on the fact that Indonesia's "standards" for slaughtering non-humans are not as high as Australia's. A definite "us versus them" mentality has been reflected in the responses of the Australian government and cattle industry, proclaiming loudly and clearly that the cruelty involved in this whole mess is a deplorable exception limited to practices in Indonesia. The livestock export industry has promptly communicated its indignation to the press, as well. Faced with criticism for its direct involvement in the Indonesian abattoir expose -- as well as the possibility of a more generalized criticism of exporting live animals to a different country altogether for slaughter -- LiveCorp CEO Cameron Hall insisted in a press release that they really do want what's best for Australia's dear old homegrown cows:

"Cruelty to Australian animals is simply unacceptable. We will not tolerate it," Mr Hall said today. [...] Mr Hall said there was more work to be done, particularly at the point of processing, however if Australia was to cease exporting cattle, animal welfare would only go backwards. "No other nation has the same commitment to animal welfare as Australia and no other country invests in animal welfare like we do."
Australian politicians who've expressed the most indignation over the story have also been making it clear that it's not that cows are being raised for slaughter that's a concern and that Australian animal slaughter practices are somehow ethical and good. It's not even the stress of the cramming together and shipping off of animals to another country that's a concern for most. In fact, a strong argument being presented in response to the Indonesian slaughterhouse story is that ending exportation could ultimately help the Australian economy:
The end of live exports would boost domestic jobs with the processing of the animals done here rather than offshore, [independent MP] Andrew Wilkie said. "We should be processing these beasts in Australia," he said.
In tandem with this, many animal welfare groups and animal advocates have been propagating petitions to ban the further exploitation of live Australian cattle to Indonesia or featuring the story on their websites, often with gory clips from the original broadcast or with excruciatingly disturbing details of the footage which was taken.

When "Exception" is Really the Status Quo

The truth is that one need not single out Indonesia for abhorrent practices when it comes to the killing of non-human animals for human consumption; random undercover footage taken at slaughterhouses in many countries frequently display goings on which shock the general public. As Prof. Gary L. Francione commented on his Facebook page on May 31:
Does anyone believe that Australian slaughterhouses and slaughter in Australia as a general matter are "humane"? Any such belief would be mistaken. This is really a perfect example of how we try to delude ourselves into thinking that there are "civilized" ways to exploit nonhumans.
Minor punishments are doled out, promises are made to make nice with the cows and then after a collective sigh of relief is issued, it's all forgotten. Francione elaborated further by suggesting of this outrage-provoking news story that "it makes people [...] feel better to be able to point to someone else who does the same thing as 'uncivilized' while we pat ourselves on the back". Ground beef, rib roast and so on continue to appear on grocery lists and are then purchased and devoured without a second-thought being given to what a mere few weeks prior had seemed inexcusably "inhumane" -- at least until the next random undercover video of habitual goings on at slaughterhouses ends up making the rounds. Lather, rinse, repeat.

"We Need to Start Somewhere"

I got into a brief discussion with a vegan animal advocate yesterday who'd posted a link on a social networking site to a petition to ban the exportation of Australian cows to Indonesia. I asked if she thought her time and energy were being well spent in implicitly endorsing one form of animal slaughter as preferable to another, when she could instead take the opportunity to educate people about what is inherently wrong in any situation where a non-human animal is raised for slaughter. "But we need to start somewhere," she said. Why, though, should that "somewhere" involve contributing to the delusion that there is such a thing as an acceptable manner in which any animal could be raised and then killed for trivial reasons dictated by human habit or whim? Why waste a perfect opportunity to directly question the ethics of treating sentient beings as things which merely exist for human use? Why engage in activism which merely reinforces the idea that animal use -- animal slaughter -- is normal, and that it can somehow be morally acceptable?

Why can't that "somewhere" from which we need to start involve talking to people about going vegan? Think about it.

1 comment:

Daniel Wilson said...

They have eyes, but they cannot see.

Excellent article Mylene. This is the reason I gave up single-issue campaigns (except the single, all-encompassing issue of promoting veganism). So much time, energy and resources wasted, not to mention the lives of the animals. Pointing out what is wrong with animal oppression should be the main issue, and the solution to it is to go vegan. It's as simple as that.