Have you seen the piece that aired on World News Tonight and Nightline last night? Let’s talk about it a bit.
Just to get it out of the way: yes, the story has the expected issue of focusing on abuse rather than use, but I’m going to focus on the positive effect a piece like this could have. Here’s why I think that, obvious problems aside, the airing of this piece will be positive in the long run:
1. It aired on a mainstream news program (actually, programs)
This piece aired on ABC during prime time on World News Tonight and later in the evening on Nightline. The former is a news broadcast my dad watches (he’s not one for overtly political leaning newscasts in either direction). That’s mainstream. And they’re showing footage from Mercy for Animals. That’s pretty impressive. Sure, it’s happened before, but when this sort of footage gets in front of a mainstream audience, the idea of veganism seems a little more normal to these same people.
2. A dairy farmer dug his own hole
Did you catch the dairy farmer they interviewed? He started off by giving the standard “it’s in our best interest to treat them well” line and shortly thereafter was stumbling all over himself defending tail docking and horn clipping as “standard industry practice” (which it is) and saying, “Of course I wish we didn’t have to do it…” It was enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. Almost. Except for the whole exploiting animals for personal gain thing.
I don’t think too many people can get behind docking cow’s tails or cutting their horns. (Except for those who convince themselves it’s not a standard practice.)
3. The artificial insemination footage
It was only about two or three seconds long and it only aired on the Nightline version of the story, but I think the very brief shot they showed of a farmhand elbow deep, artificially inseminating a dairy cow could be the most important piece of footage. I think the majority of people still kid themselves with visions of happy bovines humping in meadows of green grass. I’m also pretty sure the sentiment that “well, the cows have to be milked” is still prevalent. This very short piece of footage, though, is like a slap in the face: no, these dairy cows are not naturally pregnant and happily giving their milk to us. We’re raping them, confining them, and then stealing the milk meant for their offspring, all so we can have our next hit of cheese.
I’m hoping that short bit of video replays in people’s minds when they sit down with a glass of milk or a bowl of ice cream.
And, yes, there are some problems…
While the majority of the piece focuses on these cruel practices that are going on every second of every day, there’s just enough of the welfare message that I can certainly imagine someone coming away with the idea that, “Hey, that’s awful, but at least they’re starting to phase out those practices. Now I can feel OK about consuming milk.” And that’s the big downside of championing welfare legislation as a victory: a marginal welfare improvement becomes marketing fodder for the dairy industry.
And in case there’s any doubt that this is the message that people are getting, one need look no further than the comment section on the web version of the story (or a blog entry from before the story aired). Skip past all of the “gee, thanks for only showing one side of the story!” comments and you get to ones like this:
“I pledge to drink water and hope everyone that reads this will do the same. We can live without milk, until the humane society can get this straightened out.”
It’s a shame, because if that quote ended after “We can live without milk,” it’d be perfectly fine. But I’m sorry to say: if you wait for the Humane Society to “straighten it out,” there’s a problem. Everyone has to stop waiting for someone else to fix the problem. You can help fix the problem right now, this instant. Stop drinking milk, stop eating cheese, stop eating ice cream, stop consuming dairy. There’s no magic welfare wand that can be waved that will make it all OK. I hope that soon people will start coming away from stories like this thinking, “That’s terrible and I’m not going to be a part of it” rather than “That’s terrible and, boy oh boy, someone should do something about it!”
(If you haven’t seen the story, here’s the shorter version that aired on World News Tonight. A longer version appeared on Nightline, but doesn’t appear to be archived online.)