Oprah Winfrey on Farmed Animals, October 14, 2008
“Please watch Oprah Winfrey today if you can . . . I’m watching it right now and it is excellent.” – Animal Advocacy Internet Post
Tuesday’s Oprah Winfrey Show brought attention to the horrific plight of battery-caged hens, crated veal calves, and pregnant sows confined in metal stalls. The rallying point was California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, or Proposition 2, on the November ballot. Proposition 2 would require that these animals be given enough confinement space to stand up, lie down, and extend their limbs without bumping into other animals, walls or bars.
Oprah showed footage of the three standard types of commercial confinement systems, so-called factory farming. She also showed three less intensive types of systems: one in which veal calves lay together in a building with straw bedding, one where pigs roamed in a pasture, and one where thousands of hens used for egg production ranged on a stretch of open land. The latter is a true free-range type of commercial operation as opposed to the more common and intensive “cage-free” type, in which thousands of hens, while not in cages, are nevertheless totally confined and crowded in unsanitary buildings. The difference between free-range and cage-free was not clarified. Most who watched the show would assume that in choosing eggs or other animal products advertised as cage-free or the like, they were purchasing products from animals who lived like the animals shown on Oprah, but in most cases this would not be true.
The tone of the show was set by Oprah at the outset. Of all the choices she could have made to introduce farmed animals sympathetically to the audience, she began with a quotation from New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, who wrote in “A Farm Boy Reflects” (NYT, July 31, 2008): “Our cattle, sheep, chickens and goats certainly had individual personalities, but not such interesting ones that it bothered me that they might end up in a stew.” (How many slaveholders have smirked similarly about their chattel?)
Okay, I guess we have to be grateful to him for commending the geese on his farm for how bravely they fought for their mates at the time of slaughter. (He brought this up on Oprah.) And he’s so honest and human for sharing that he still eats geese (“goose”) – those “virtual family friends” he described in his op-ed as “knowing something dreadful was happening, frightened out of their wits, panicked, tremulous, protesting pitifully, determined to stand with and comfort their lover” through the orgy of killing they suffered within earshot of the butchering by the family.
While Oprah made a big deal about how the show was intended to help viewers make more informed food choices, she made it very clear that vegetarian or vegan information and choices were taboo. Vegetarian/vegan was stamped out like hot coals. The only permissible choice was between products from animals raised this way or that. Not a word to get people wondering how billions of consumers could realistically be fed by animals raised in the prettified systems presented on the show. Not a word about the amount of land such systems would require to meet the economic demands of billions of consumers of animal products. As for poor people living in urban areas, it’s factory-farm offal, not “Oprah.”
So, okay, Oprah, thank you for devoting a show to the animal “food” issue (with plenty of artificial sweeteners and opiates) and the wretched of the earth (no opiates for them). But let us not bow and scrape. Oprah does not deserve a standing ovation. The increasing numbers of animals being born, raised and slaughtered for human consumption in the global marketplace are not going to benefit, no matter how many propositions are passed, as long as the only choice people make or are told they need to make is eating them. – Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150