Shocking Undercover Videos Give 360-Degree View of Life on a Factory Farm

Investigation brings to light the all-too-often hidden costs of our addiction to cheap meat.

(Photo: YouTube)

Jan 20, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

There’s a lot to loathe about factory farms, from the staggering amount of waste they produce that often pollutes our groundwater to their central role in the alarming rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs to their perpetuation of a market for cheap meat—which, in turn, contributes mightily to global warming pollution.

As bad as these things are, though, they’re relatively easy to debate: just boil the issues down to a lot of abstract—if outsize—statistics. What’s harder to digest is the horrific suffering that a vast majority of the 10 billion animals forced to live out their lives in these euphemistically termed CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations—must endure. A groundbreaking series of videos being released by the investigative arm of the animal rights group Last Chance for Animals shines a harsh, high-resolution light on just the sort of stomach-turning cruelty most Americans would rather not think about before double-dipping their next chicken nugget.

No, these videos are unlikely to go viral like so many YouTube clips of cavorting puppies or grumpy cats—and that’s too bad. Because whether we’re talking about ordering a fast-food bacon burger or grabbing some dirt-cheap boneless chicken breast at the grocery store, it seems most of us still don’t really have the full picture when it comes to understanding the cost of all that plentiful protein.

LCA’s videos provide that perspective: Taken with state-of-the-art digital video cams surreptitiously placed by investigators, they give an animal-eye’s view of what it’s like to live on a factory farm, in all 360 wrenching, soul-crushing, dispiriting degrees.

Despite the windowless confines, rampant filth, and general atmosphere that can’t fail to call to mind some twisted horror movie, however, the footage stays just within the boundary of being watchable. It’s in the voice-over that we’re left to imagine the brutality unseen: that dead piglets, for example, are often gutted and their intestines fed to other pigs in a seemingly sadistic effort to immunize them, or that the ammonia rising from the copious amounts of manure at a chicken farm is so intense, it burns the birds’ feathers off.

Where these factory farms are and how LCA’s investigative team managed to obtain its footage remain undisclosed. This is an industry with a litigious reputation, after all—one that has lobbied successfully for ag-gag laws, legislation that criminalizes this sort of whistle-blowing, in at least eight states.

It’s a campaign of intimidation that may very well backfire. By forcing animal rights advocates to go deep undercover and to keep the identities of these “farms” anonymous, the appalling evidence they gather ends up representing the entire industry—there’s no way to know that the bacon you had for breakfast didn’t come from one of the piglets in the video, nosing about the corpse of another piglet. With the quality of footage improving thanks to developments (and price reductions) in camera technology, and the reach of the images growing ever wider thanks to the Internet, investigations like this will likely continue to occur more regularly. There's nothing to suggest that footage from a group like LCA doesn't reflect standard, industry-wide practices.

In the end, though, the only way for this kind of high-tech whistle-blowing to have any impact is if the rest of us swallow hard and muster the courage to actually watch it.