Rotten Meat & Sanctimony, Colltalers
If anything, social networks exacerbated the ancient human trait of claiming superiority above others by downplaying their right to exist. When shocking events trigger public outrage, it’s a given that some will blame others for it, often leaving the real culprits off the hook.
Thus, when several meat producers in Brazil, including the country’s two largest, were raided by federal agents last Friday, finding rotten meat packaged and ready to be sold in public schools, and exported to Europe, eating habits were blamed first for it, not a sick industry.
This being Brazil, the grizzly discovery of gross health violations is also linked to a scheme involving bribing inspectors and administration officials. Authorities scrambled to assure global partners that those were isolated incidents, rather than a sample of an multi billion dollar, under-regulated industry, mostly left at its own devices when it comes to health concerns. But common sense indicates that it’s the opposite.
Taking the scandal out of the context of widespread corruption and draft, that seem to pervade the current government, may be an insult to that same common sense, but some insane defense may argue that lax regulation, disregard to basic hygiene practices, and special favoritism by officials are all ingrained to the industry globally. And in Brazil, as in the rest of the world, consumers are not aware of them.
That’s like blaming the industry’s ‘raw material,’ i.e., the animals, of being too messy for continuing to have physiological functions even as they’re squeezed by the hundreds into the place of their own slaughter. For that’s exactly what happens and it’s the underlying cause for chronic contamination of meat plants. Not their bodily functions, of course, but the massive and inhumane system they’re forced to be part of.
Still, the matter is more serious than it’s being addressed in the Brazilian corporate media, and chances are, the scandal will die out within weeks. Given that part of the affected is so vulnerable – the impoverished public school system – and the industry’s lobbying muscle, we may be reading next week or after that the problem is being resolved, low level inspectors got fired, and there’s nothing else left to see here.
Behind the scenes, though, the P.R. battle will be even more intense than the ones waged publicly by the companies. Brazil’s trade balance relies heavily on meat exports, and such a disaster can undermine its powerful agribusiness and overall credibility before its partners.
And that’s the aspect that it’s so common to the very structure of global commercial relations. From a strictly standpoint
of scandals, Europe itself is still reeling from the disaster that revelations about illegal addition of horse meat to some of its delicacy meat exports have caused.
Everybody plays the part of the indignant and the unaware – or, ‘how could you,’ the produces, ‘do this to me,’ the governments? But the underlying reality is that there’s always a point when some officials are in bed with those they’re supposed to keep an eye on. Even though, nominally, regulators are acting on behalf of the consumer, in fact, they’re there to prevent the industry’s lack of scruples from being exposed.
Many despise organizations such as the People for the Ethical Treatments of Animals, and even those sympathetic with its cause, have no stomach to watch yet another video of farm animals being, well, brutally farmed, or lab torture of pets, for literally cosmetic purposes.
But they serve a purpose, albeit arguable for its methods, which is to warn consumers about the way goods they patronize are manufactured.
If shock value has an expiration date, our conscience should not. No vulnerable creature should be systemically turned into a commodity, as modern society allows it to happen to animals. And worst, turning its back to their physical torment, inflicted in the name of our well being.
Only in the past five years, scandals within the meat industry beat even more well known culprits: the oil and gas industry, car manufacturers, and makers of products for children. While these face regular public scrutiny, even without suffering much consequence, – and unlikely the gun industry, which absolute lacks challenges to its practices – by nature, meat producers represent a moral notch lower than all the rest.
And they tend to at least connect to one or all of the world’s biggest meat producers: the U.S., Brazil, and the European Union. So, when a scandal broke out in China, where a huge company was found to be shipping old and discarded meat, to domestic and abroad consumption, it turned out that its factory was U.S.-owned, despite heavy media coverage blaming, with some reason, China’s poor food safety record.
Two years ago, when a group of whistleblowers published a report on five U.S. pork meat processors, denouncing a new system of self-regulation, which allowed a series of violations to be ignored, it was the whistleblowers who ran into problems with the law. While they were left to fend for themselves by the system, violators paid standard fines, recalled some products, but mostly carried on their business as usual.
Often not only animals endure ghastly and subhuman conditions in meat factory facilities, even though they are the ones paying the ultimate price. According to a 2016 Oxfam report, top poultry producers in the U.S. are meeting rising demand by cutting bathroom breaks of their workers, forcing them to wear diapers while on duty. It notes that such breaks are considered by employers to be a privilege, not a right.
Another study, published in 2013 by an Alabama group, found out that workers were restricted to a limited number of 5-minute bathroom breaks, during shift, forcing them to strip naked on their way to the toilet so not to waste time. That fact was behind an increase in accidents, as workers would rush and fall on the slippery floors of meat plants, covered of blood, fat, and body fluids. An unbearable picture indeed.
Yes, that was a bit too graphic, and we should be just about done with this subject. But going back to what happened in Brazil, other aspects have also come to the fore on the issue, as in many ways, people are becoming increasingly ambiguous about eating animal products.
Social networks immediately exploded with vegetarian and vegan posters berating their fellow Brazilians for eating meat and not considering the consequences of their habit. Although, they have a valid point, much preaching is seemingly done less out of an enlightened attitude towards nature and more out of the desire to lecture other people on their ‘wrong’ ways. And what a satisfaction that is.
Others pointed that one of the main causes for the acceleration of the Amazon Rainforest’s current rate of deforestation is being caused by the burger industry, as many a high profile multinational is replacing ancient trees by pasture. All as demand for meat keeps increasing globally.
But apart from the valid points such groups present, and abstracting the blatant and abject trolling of people for their personal, private lifetime choices, the discussion belongs to a more effective economic and political context, and in the latest flare up, should be treated as such.
Like the pharma industry, and the overall food industry, since the Industrial Revolution, meat producers have enjoyed a privileged position in the global economic system, driving development, subsidizing growth of nations, and boosting their power for commercial bargaining.
But just as well, much of these privileges are out of sync with contemporary reality, specially as far as super population and environmental pollution is concerned. Compared to other agricultural goods, meat production is by far the most expensive, complex, and monopolistic of even those industries artificially sustained by government subsidies, from which it also benefits too. There’s also another factor to add.
In the U.S., Brazil, and the European Union, meat producers have unrestricted access to power, which means that, no policy, legislation, and yes, politician, is elected without their support. On their perch, climate change measures, for instance, have little change of being approved.
Thus, rather than shock value, our bet is on consumer education, if we’re to find ways to restrain the meat industry’s boundless influence on public policy. And even if it’s Meatless Monday, treat each other like adults with a choice about their own diets and eating habits.
Maybe not for long, admittedly. But the enemy is not those who’re being sold on the supposedly irreplaceable nutritive properties of meat; it’s the sophisticated apparatus built to squash dissent, even if using dubious scientific arguments. The key is education, not conversion.
There’s much to learn about the animals some choose to eat, while others treat as pets, and how perception about them is based on economic interests. Even to vegans, it may come as a surprise that cows, for example, relish human contact, chickens problem-solve, and pigs, unlike some religions, are sensitive to others’ needs. There’s no hierarchy in the natural world, survival is irrelevant, and ours is not its priority.
Being atop the food chain is a position, not a self-fulfilling right to be in charge, or a mandate of superiority. For centuries, Western societies no longer rely on their capacity to hunt. Ultimately, eating or not meat does not define anyone (see, Hitler, Adolf); personal awareness does.
Sadly, we’ve lost Chuck Berry, one of the greatest storytellers and stylists of rock and roll, and a lifetime musical hero. To some extent, he embodied all that a popular art form can be in order to change the world. And by Beethoven, he did it. In peace you go, Johnny, go. WC