Butterball Turkey: The Abu Ghraib Of Animal Abuse  »

Painting by Fernando Botetro via this Italian website

Congrats to Mercy For Animals: an undercover video of turkey abuse they took in December led to the arrest last week of seven people, including a North Carolina government official. Five of those arrested have been charged with animal cruelty. I don’t see any need to ruin my day with the video evidence of their crimes, but you an check it out at

This is awesome, right? Some justice, finally? Except it feels really icky to me. Like one of the worst incidents of the last decade: how our country dealt with the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib.

In Iraq, as in NC, abuse was revealed in graphic images, and outrage ensued. People were punished. Yet I fear that in this case, just as with Abu Ghraib, the wrong people are getting scapegoated and the real problem is sliding by unexamined and unsolved.

Though the names and even addresses of the workers arrested are public, I could find no info about who they are. Their names are Hispanic. I suspect they are among the low-paid, over-worked, probably-miserable workers with the shitty job of actually witnessing the atrocious way meat is produced in this country. I suspect that their alleged cruelty, while not excusable, is a symptom of a systemic ill, not evidence of their personal moral failings. I would say the same about the abuses at Abu Ghraib. (If you disagree with me on that one, please watch the spectacular Errol Morris documentary “Standard Operating Procedure,” then let’s talk).

And I fear that just as with Abu Ghraib, the little people will be punished, while the rich, powerful people whose decisions pushed them to atrocity will continue to be rich, powerful, and free from meaningful consequence (see Bush, Cheney, John Yoo, et al).

Butterball says, “Animal care and well-being are central to who Butterball is as a company, and we are committed to the care and well-being of our turkey flocks. We are closely re-evaluating our animal care and well-being policies and practices and have already established several new initiatives.”

They pretend this is a problem that can be solved with more training and better HR. Bullshit. This cruelty is built into the system, and the only solution is radical change. (Forcing factory farms to open their doors to the public? Outlawing cruel practices at the federal level, since apparently states aren’t allowed to do that? Making producers bear the true cost of the pollution and social ills they cause? Taking all kids on field trips to the farms that actually make their food?)

Torture thrives when the setting is psychopathic. Pretending that punishing the guy on the bottom will fix anything? That too is irrational. Human rights, animal rights, empathy, kindness, and love: these die and wilt in a war zone. Do we really want it to be that bad just for the sake of club sandwiches?

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