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From docked pig tails to wringed chicken necks: Animal activist group visits UMKC

When a large utility truck shows up on campus with giant television screens complete with privacy enclosures and headphones on either side, students are bound to draw near. Thanks to monetary incentives and likely a touch of curiosity, many gathered round the Atterbury Student Success Center walkway last week to watch a video designed to make viewers question their eating habits, or maybe just lose their lunch.

Activist group Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) set up shop just outside the cafeteria April 8 – 10 and offered $1 to anyone willing to watch an extremely graphic, four-minute video regarding the living conditions of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses as part of its “10 Billion Lives Tour.” According to the USDA, approximately 10 billion animals are raised and slaughtered every year in the U.S – hence the tour’s name, “10 Billion Lives.”

FARM aims to show everyone in America its video on the national tour, and the $1 incentive is a marketing strategy the group calls “pay-per-view.” The video is also available at 10billionlives.com, where viewers have a one in 25 chance of winning a pair of movie tickets for watching.

The four minute video consists of undercover footage collected from farms and slaughterhouses showcasing harsh treatment of animals, including (but not limited to) images of calves’ throats being slit, live chicks going into a grinder, piglets’ tails being cut off without anesthetic and chickens having their beaks soldered off.

“Everything in the video is legal standard industry practices that the Department of Agriculture says happens to 95 percent of animals killed for food in this country,” said Jillian Lowry, national tour lead for the “10 Billion Lives” campaign. In the last minute of the video, viewers are encouraged to adopt a vegan lifestyle in order to aid efforts to reduce animal cruelty in the agriculture industry.

“Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from, and the ’10 Billion Lives Tour’ will expose people to the harsh reality of animal agriculture,” said Michael Webermann, executive director of FARM. “Viewers often tear up or become angry after watching the video, and turn that passion into action by making food choices that are consistent with their values.”

To date, approximately 20,000 college students have seen the video, though it has reached about 250,000 people total. According to FARM, “more than 80 percent of viewers commit to eating fewer animal products after watching the video. In follow-up surveys, over 60 percent of respondents maintain the pledge.”

“After watching the video, we chat with students about the health benefits of dropping animal products from your diet and the environmental issues involved with animal agriculture,” said Lowry.

FARM has existed for over 30 years, and according to its website, ultimately aims to completely end the use of animals for food.

Activist groups like FARM, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have received significant backlash from the opposition concerning their recruiting tactics, which often take on an in-your-face, no holds barred approach. FARM’s four minute video may not be an exception to the rule.

Though FARM’s short video may not be factually inaccurate, it absolutely does not give viewers any insight into why certain visually shocking procedures are performed in slaughterhouses. An anonymous source and former employee of a Premium Standard Farms breeding and farrowing barn watched the video and explained several seemingly cruel procedures involving pigs.

FARM’s video shows clips of piglets having their testicles removed and/or their tails cut off without anesthetic, but the source claims it’s for the animals’ safety. “It happens in the first two days they’re born,” said the source. “It’s not done out of cruelty, it’s done because the piglets are with the rest of their litter during that time and the other piglets will try to bite off their tails. If their tails are bitten off, they often get infected and don’t heal correctly.”

The source also argued that using blunt force trauma to put down a sick pig is much more humane than some alternatives. In the barn the source worked in, pigs that weren’t killed by a captive bolt gun or a swift blow to the head were subjected to death by gas chamber.

“The gas chambers on the farm were shoddy,” said the source. “The lids don’t fit correctly because they aren’t well maintained. After getting a pig in the gas chamber, you’d have to sit on the lid to keep it on. It’s only supposed to take a second or two in the chamber to kill them, but due to the condition of the chambers and depending on the size of the pig, sometimes it would take several minutes. You’d have to hear them scream and cry inside the chamber while they suffered to death.”

Though the source’s account of gas chambers in the pork industry supports much of what FARM’s video is trying to convey about animal cruelty, it is important to remember the context in which the issue is framed. FARM’s video doesn’t tell the whole story, as it is designed to attract more people to the vegan lifestyle. Conditions for animals in the agriculture industry can be terrible and shocking, but appealing to viewer sympathy via four minutes of animal cruelty doesn’t have everyone jumping on the vegan bandwagon.

“I know conditions are harsh, and some procedures are gruesome and inhumane, but you can’t just guilt trip people into veganism,” said the source. “Realistically, people are going to keep eating meat. Why not campaign to change USDA and FDA regulations that allow animal cruelty in agriculture to continue?”

For more information about FARM and the “10 Billion Lives Tour,” visit www.farmusa.org.

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