This week the New York Times carried an article, entitled “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit,” that took the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Neb., to task for its treatment of animals. I grew up looking at the valuable research that’s been created at MARC over the past 50 years, appreciating the beneficial impacts of that work, and admiring the integrity and commitment of those researchers, so the article was almost surreal.
I’m a political junkie, so I’m no stranger to one-sided arguments. The article on MARC, however, wasn’t presented as an editorial or identified as having a political slant; it was presented as “unbiased” reporting.
However, the article was so fundamentally flawed that anyone with knowledge of MARC and the people who work there realized it was so biased and agenda-driven as to be nonsensical. The piece itself was difficult to read, but even more unsettling were the reader comments from well-meaning folks who followed the article on the newspaper’s website.
The reality is that, as presented, outrage is the proper emotion to expect from those whose only exposure to MARC is what was presented in the article. I don’t know if the author and editorial team are just uninformed or are agenda-driven, but the immorality and injustice of the article is nonetheless the same.
The article included the same mantras and rhetoric of the anti-livestock industry folks, including the same old anti-capitalistic, anti-large business themes. After reading the anti-meat propaganda, environmental propaganda, and appreciating the nexus that now exists between these organizations in their messaging, I would guess that this article was shaped and formed by those who hold that perspective.
Sadly, the production of this article also had to have substantial inside information. An individual could not distort the data to the level of distortions that were made without intimate knowledge. Certainly, the industry never will condone any mistreatment of animals, but reading this article made it painfully obvious to me that, when taken out of context, selective descriptions manipulated properly can become very effective ammunition against our industry.
Animal welfare is the most effective way to attack our industry. One of the greatest challenges we face as an industry is to more effectively describe who we are and what we do. I’m convinced it’s a story that accurately and properly will elicit support. However, at this time, that story is neither well understood nor the story that most people are hearing.
Will the New York Times move the needle in a major way? Probably not, but it’s another nick added to all the others. If the beef and livestock industries are going to more effectively combat such attacks, we have to understand and really appreciate the role of politics, media and science in this battle.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.
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