Mercy for Animals?

A two-part series on animal rights, factory farming, the industrialization of food, and life and death in cages
September 22, 2015 Updated: September 22, 2015

Part One: An interview with Matt Rice Director of Investigations Mercy For Animals

Animal (noun) an·i·mal ˈa-nə-məl: a living thing that is not a human being or plant: any living thing that is not a plant: a person who behaves in a wild, aggressive, or unpleasant way.

I find circuses deeply offensive. We are just beginning to recognize animals as important in their own right. Circuses throw us back to the Middle Ages.
— Desmond Morris, zoologist and animal behaviorist

Mercy For Animals is an animal rights group that conducts undercover investigations to expose animal abuse in factory farms and other food production facilities, and their work takes place both on the ground and in the courtroom. Matt Rice, MFA’s director of investigations, works with undercover investigators to expose animal abuse at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Among other successes, these investigations have led to raids of factory farms, rescues of abused farmed animals, and passage of anti-cruelty laws. MFA’s exposes have also brought about close to 50 prosecutions for animal cruelty, law enforcement raids, and convictions for criminal animal abuse.

SBB: Matt, what is the line between animals who are viewed as pets and animals who are used as food? 

MR: The only meaningful difference between the animals we call pets, Shelley, and those we call dinner is the way they are treated. Cows, pigs, and chickens are every bit as capable of experiencing joy, love, sorrow, fear, and pain as the dogs and cats many of us know and love. Yet on factory farms, farmed animals are routinely mutilated without painkillers, crammed in cages so small they can’t even spread their limbs or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives, and have their throats cut open while they are still conscious and able to feel pain. 

Shockingly, not a single federal law protects farmed animals from abuse or neglect during their lives on factory farms, and most U.S. states specifically exclude farmed animals from legal protection. This means that factory farmers often get away with abusing millions of animals in ways that would result in criminal animal cruelty charges if even one dog or cat were the victim instead. 

Every time we sit down to eat we put our ethics on the table. At Mercy For Animals, we encourage people to choose kindness over cruelty at each meal by opting for healthy and humane vegetarian alternatives to meat, milk, and eggs. Why love dogs and cats, but eat cows and pigs when there are so many great tasting, cruelty-free food options available? 

SBB: What is MFA’s view on the extent of cruelty in the food industry? 

Matt: Cruelty to animals runs rampant in the factory farming industry. Every time Mercy For Animals’ undercover investigators go behind the closed doors of factory farms they document widespread acts of criminal animal abuse that shock and horrify most people. Without undercover investigations, there are no meaningful watchdogs protecting animals from egregious cruelty in these facilities. 

SBB: Why is the public so ill-informed? Is the media not doing their job? What are first steps in educating the public about the plights of farmed animals? 

Matt: Less than a century ago, more than half of Americans were involved in farming. Now, with the advent of factory farming, fewer than two percent of Americans are involved in food production. At the same time, the numbers of animals raised and killed for food has grown exponentially. However, these animals have largely been moved inside, behind the closed doors of factory farm sheds and warehouses, and out of sight and out of mind of most consumers. 

Meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar factory farming industry has been working over time to minimize costs and maximize profits. This almost always comes at the expense of animal welfare and the environment. The factory farming industry has also spent millions of dollars lobbying the government to pass laws designed to shield them from public scrutiny.

A handful of states have even gone so far as to pass unconstitutional “ag-gag” laws that prohibit whistleblowers from taking pictures or videos that expose animal abuse or other crimes at farms and slaughterhouses.

SBB: But, you keep teams out in the field documenting this ongoing industrial cruelty.

Matt: At MFA, we believe consumers have a right to know how their food is being produced and how animals on modern farms are treated so they can make informed choices. And we believe the animals should have their stories told. That’s why we conduct undercover investigations and pull the curtain back on this secretive and cruel industry. Investigators’ jobs are to be the eyes and ears of the public, who are kept largely in the dark about how animals are treated before they reach our plates.

The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ or, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’
— Jeremy Bentham

Commentary by the Columnist and Case Studies

Should animals be preyed upon, and slaughtered en masse, because they are not as intellectually advanced as us? Is that a sign of our superior intellect—the slaughter of our fellow species?

We breed and butcher animals for food under conditions that has all the elements of industrialized animal cruelty—if it were inflicted on our dogs or cats, it would be considered a monstrous crime. Farmed animals are no less intelligent or less capable of feeling pain than the dogs and cats we consider family. Yet we mutilate them without painkillers, imprison them in factories of cruelty, facing a future of mass slaughter.

There is a well-documented link between animal cruelty and violence against people. Those who abuse animals are also likely to harm people—including their own family members. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once remarked that “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” 

A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that 70 percent of animal abusers had committed at least one other crime. Almost 40 percent had committed violent crimes against people. 

The researchers also compared matched groups of abusers and non-abusers over a 20-year period. They found the abusers were five times more likely to commit violent crimes than the non-abusers. Other studies have come to similar conclusions.

We are the only species that inflicts pain other species and calls it sport or entertainment, while knowing it only to be pain. We must progress beyond the species-ist ethic of factory farming, of using animals as research tools, of blood sports, whaling sport hunting, and bull fighting.

All these are acts of torment and murder that we inflict on the other species we share this life experience with. Are we not denying this life experience to other species at the cost of our own human character? We must take the final steps in expanding the evolution of our ethics. We must listen to the voices we have yet to understand. They are not subspecies or underlings; they speak the language of their own being, of their own lives, in their own time, where there is the same splendor, emotion, and poetry of being alive.

Shelley B. Blank has worked with major national and international newspapers as a journalist as well as a corporate executive. He has produced programs for Public Radio and lectured on modern multimedia communications and technology.