Dan Murphy: The Glass House Canard

Glass house
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One of the clichés activists love to roll out is the one that posits that if only people could see what happens to food animals, it would be the end of their meat-eating days.

A couple problems with that.

For one, that “experiment” has already been conducted. More than a dozen years ago, a group of media people who’d never seen the inside of a packing plant were taken on a tour of a Texas beef plant — including the stunning chute. Their conclusion: We were shocked by how sanitary, how professional and how humane the entire process appeared.

I’m paraphrasing, but the consensus of the group was that the “horror stories” about slaughtering, to which they’d all been exposed through undercover videos and other activist messaging, were not at all what they witnessed when they watched a modern beef plant in operation.

Second, I can offer a couple other scenarios in which up-close-and-personal exposure would also be disturbing — yet the public’s perceptions of these two industries don’t approach anything remotely resembling activists’ demands that animal agriculture be eliminated.

They are timber harvesting and hospital surgery.

A visit to a logging site would be a rude awakening for the legions of hikers, backpackers and Nature lovers who blithely absorb the beauty and tranquility of  a mature forest. They’d be shocked by the roar of chain saws and yarders, coupled with clouds of diesel smoke, swirling dust and debris. To the uninitiated, witnessing the operation of a commercial timber cutting unit would be akin to traveling through one of the circles of hell.

Yet never is heard a discouraging word about people’s houses — almost universally framed with wood from those operations — nor any demands for an immediate halt to lumber production.

Likewise, watching major surgery would cause extreme distress for everyone other than medical personnel themselves, who are inured to the blood and gore, plus the handful of thrill seekers who eagerly absorb “DIY” video clips of organ removals, amputations or the removal of some horrid growth from inside a body cavity.

Suspect Priorities
The glass house reference arose again this month in the wake of the release of Ketchum Purpose’s “Causes Americans Care About” survey for 2018, which claimed that “animal welfare” is the leading issue about which Americans are concerned.

The PR consultancy company’s data revealed these top three issues:

  1. Animal welfare, selected by 41% of respondents
  2. Children’s education, with 38% of Americans choosing that issue
  3. Hunger, chosen by 33% of respondents

The other leading causes Americans said they’re concerned about, according to the survey, were disease research (No. 4) and disaster relief (No. 5), neither of which are all that surprising, given the severity of the recent flu season and the string of hurricanes and flooding that devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico last year.

If those top three issues were unprompted choices, I’d be shocked beyond belief, but as of publication time, Ketchum hasn’t responded to confirm the format of their questionnaire.

That’s critically important. Give people a list of issues they should care about, and they’ll respond as if their choices represent a moral litmus test. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to do otherwise.

However, when survey respondents are asked open-ended questions about what’s most important, the responses generally trend toward “pocketbook issues:” job security, taxation and healthcare costs.

It would be hard to imagine a representative sample of American adults deciding without prompting that their No. 1 concern in this world, the most important priority in their lives, the critical issue animating their political involvement, charitable giving and perhaps volunteer time they might devote to an organization or cause would be animal welfare.

I’m not buying it.

Yes, most of us care about animals, whether wildlife that deserve protection, farm animals entitled to proper care and humane handling or the pets who share our homes, furniture and sleeping arrangements.

But is animal welfare at the top of our lists? Hardly.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.