@GeneWeingarten: Down on the factory farm


(Eric Shansby)
Gene Weingarten
Columnist September 20, 2013

I am talking today with Steve Kopperud, a lobbyist in Washington. I learned about Steve and his organization from a news story reporting that he had successfully lobbied the federal government to remove a “Meatless Monday” sign from above a veggie food station in the cafeteria of a federal office building. Steve had argued that the sign was an implicit insult to the American meat-production industry.

Me: I am calling to present you with an award from The Washington Post Magazine. There’s no money attached, but I’m sure the prestige alone will be a valuable asset. The first annual Washington Post Magazine George Orwell Untruth in Labeling Award is hereby presented to Steve Kopperud, head of the “Farm Animal Welfare Coalition,” for having the most audaciously misleading name of any organization in Washington. Congratulations, Steve.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

Steve: Thank you. I will hang it on my wall, even though it is untrue.

Me: You represent factory farmers. You have publicly said that your greatest enemy is the animal rights lobby!

Steve: Define “factory farmer.”

(A spirited back and forth ensues in which Steve contends that “factory farming” is a pejorative term favored by animal rights activists, whom he does concede are his greatest enemies. We agree to henceforth use the more neutral term “large-scale animal farmer.”)

Me: Look, we both know why your organization is named what it is, and it is not because you are primarily concerned with animal welfare. It is because a more factual name, such as “Torturers and Murderers of Animals Coalition,” wouldn’t raise as much money.

Steve: That would be untruthful.

Me: Despite stiff opposition from the appalled masses, you support the slaughter of horses for food.

Steve: The notion of horse slaughter is a remedy for 200,000 abandoned horses in the United States.

Me: You opposed a measure that would have required poultry sold as “organic” to be raised in a manner that would allow chickens to be outside for a measly hour or two each day, to get a breath of fresh air.

Steve: “Organic” just means the absence of artificial additives to feed. You can do that without having to incur greater expenses. Besides, oftentimes if you give a chicken an opportunity to go outside, it won’t.

Me: You have opposed a ban on physically constrictive cages for chickens and gestation crates for sows, which essentially immobilize these animals for much of their lives and are considered the two cruelest parts of large-scale animal farming, and are actually banned in some places in the civilized world.

Steve: There are welfare aspects to those systems. For example, there are negative consequences to allowing sows to be with piglets immediately after birth. They can roll over and kill them or eat them.

Me: You have opposed regulations that would require farmers to administer painkillers before animals are de-horned, de-beaked or castrated.

Steve: It comes down to pragmatic decisions. If done correctly, pain and discomfort is minimized. Keep in mind the cost of doing anything more with an animal increases the cost to the processor, which increases the cost to the retailer, which increases the cost to the consumer. We need to use systems to allow farming in the most efficient way while still maintaining animal welfare.

Me: You don’t concede that “animal welfare” isn’t the prime concern of your organization, and a misleading term for your group?

Steve: No more misleading than “animal rights” is a misleading term for those groups. If animals are all raised free-range, with no barns, just shelter when they want, they’d have problems with disease, weather, predation and human mischief. We argue we are preventing these things.

Me: You have an enormous amount of what we Jewish people call “chutzpah.”

Steve: I’d call it “honesty.”

Me: Naturally!

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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