March 24, 2018

Fight the Right Target (Animal Activism Case)


For those who truly want to liberate animals, humanity, and the Earth, THIS is the target, not small farms

According to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), animal rights activists launched an action against Long Shadow Farm in Colorado. I haven’t personally been to Long Shadow, but based on the tactics described in the article, the farm’s website and the imprimatur of the FTCLDF it looks like they’re the kind of small pastoral farm which must be the basis of all healthy, humane and ecological animal farming for the Food Sovereignty movement.
Therefore it’s an unfortunate clash where animal activists who ought to make their focus the abolition of CAFOs choose instead to target such a small, benevolent operation. Of course from the point of view of the more extreme form of animal welfare, any kind of husbandry automatically is bad. (Though I’ve never heard a coherent prescription from any of them; in my experience the vast majority of animal activists are grossly ignorant about food, agriculture*, economics, and probably ecology as well – for most it’s a typical boutique “cause”, like Prius-driving, luxury vacation-flying “climate activists”.) But even they, if they have any sane sense of magnitude, must agree that a CAFO is infinitely more cruel than a small pasturage. And they must also agree that CAFOs must be abolished, not only on the moral ground that they’re literally the equivalent of the Nazi death camps, but also on critical ecological, agronomic, socioeconomic, and public health grounds, all crises where small pasturages are, at the very least, doing no harm.
Therefore I have to question the sincerity and, probably, the physical courage of activists who would duck away from taking on the big corporate target in order to attack the much easier, shall we say softer small farm target. I also wonder another thing. Most animal welfare types display a great enthusiasm for commodity industrial agriculture. Specifically, they usually tout as their “solution” that corporate industrial grains should be used as “food for people” instead of as CAFO feed. This demonstrates a perfect ignorance of capitalism in general and agribusiness in particular, which depends upon CAFOs as the subsidized “demand” for the overproduced grain. This is innate to capitalism and to productionism as such. Conversely, the kind of system which maximizes industrial grain in the first place would never focus on food for people as its goal, since this goal does not serve to maximize power, profit, and destruction. I’ll also observe that such a prescription highlights the activists’ lack of concern for the plight of agricultural workers and the millions driven off their land by these plantations. But like I said, these mostly are white Western liberals who automatically despise unskilled workers, especially brown ones, and who effectively regard the totally dispossessed as not human at all.
Given this, I wonder how much of the special animus animal welfare types hold against small pastoral farms is driven, not just by a general belief that any kind of animal husbandry automatically is exploitative and cruel, but by the standard technocratic statist hatred of any activity outside the corporate system, hatred especially for the Community Food sector. In the same way that mainstream food NGOs have more in common with Monsanto than they do with small farmers (especially Southern brown farmers), indigenous peoples, and grassroots democracy activists, so the average Western liberal is likely to hold more in common with big corporate structures as such, including even the CAFO system, than with decentralized, uncorporatized economic systems. Again, it’s no accident that the same who deplore CAFOs tend to move smoothly to exalting the grain and vegetable equivalent of CAFOs, even though the corporate agriculture and food system is an integrated whole, every one of whose parts drives the all the pathologies of the whole. Of course an industrial soy field is an ecological disaster different only in degree from a pig CAFO. The underlying psychological and moral premise is the same.
As for the special animus I mentioned, I’ve seen lots of squabbles between small animal farmers and vegan types, including some on both sides of my personal acquaintance. And while grass farmers sometimes do bait animal welfare people, in my experience it’s far more common for animal people to single out small husbandry for special abuse, as if this kind of activity were especially loathesome to them. In that connection, I’ll add that the FTCLDF’s article on this incident was more fair in describing the motivations of anti-cruelty activists, and in giving them credit for their excellent exposures of CAFO horrors, than the depictions of small pastoral operations that I’ve seen in the animal welfare literature.
To close where I began, the abolition of CAFOs is a critical human and ecological need for the many reasons I briefly listed above. The community food movement, animal and vegetable farmers, all agree on this. Presumably most animal activists would agree also. That’s why the focus of their action ought to be on the main target and not on a key part of the rising Community Food sector, whose expansion and flourishing is the equal affirmative need corresponding with the great abolition need. Therefore it’s unfortunate where two such important groups conflict.
But it’s also unfortunate that many who oppose some notion of animal cruelty seem not to agree on the overall destructiveness and unsustainability of the corporate food system as such. Perhaps many of them usually support that system against any attempt to operate outside it. (We saw how all the food NGOs supported Big Ag’s “Food Safety Modernization Act”.) It seems these are the reasons that the conflict is so largely driven, not by the small farms but by the animal activists. Of course they’d reply that they regard these farms as cruel as well, and probably most of them believe that. But as I described here, only bad faith or a grotesque lapse of proportion could cause them to lose sight of the main goal, the abolition of CAFOs. Certainly if I were an animal activist I’d eat, drink, and sleep nothing but this goal.
In the end CAFOs, like the rest of industrial agriculture, are unsustainable and will cease to exist. We who fight to build Food Sovereignty will win in the end, with or without the assistance of the animal welfare movement. It’s up to them to decide whether they’re really part of opposing corporate power and industrial ravage, and whether they really want to help build a human, ecological future, or whether like the climate crocodiles they’re just another stupid self-indulgence amid Babylon.
*I used to think agroecology wasn’t sustainable without the supplement of animal manures. Invariably, any alternative I’ve seen touted by animal activists turned out to be based on more or less hidden fossil fuel supplements. The few times I discussed this with vegans or animal activists I told them I was willing to be convinced otherwise, and that researching this question would be a useful thing for them to do. None ever took me up on it.
Ironically, the more I’ve researched cover cropping the more convinced I’ve become that with maximal cover cropping and composting, a truly vegan agroecological horticulture probably could work. But I got no help from the vegans themselves in reaching this conclusion.