Written by: Heather Clemenceau ©
How can we gauge success in our activist efforts? Obviously, there are the public successes, as we’ve seen with the Dorian Ayache/Three Angels Farm case – where three private citizens provided evidence and filed a formal complaint with the USDA Office of the Inspector General that he had violated the 28 hour USDA regulations. The regulations prevent horses intended for slaughter from “being on a conveyance for transport” for over 28 hours. These are the regulations that exist and are intended to provide a minimum acceptable standard for transporting animals, but never seem to be enforced. As a result of this citizen effort, Ayache has now been hit with fines for violation of the 28 hour rule, which amounts to $5,000 per horse, or $185,000 for 37 horses. One can only speculate how long this operation has flouted the law and caused terrible suffering to horses while perpetuating this cruelty at the expense of the taxpayer.
Obviously, the citizen activism in this example required a significant investment of time coupled with the element of risk – what might have happened had they been discovered? To end the mistreatment of horses, and indeed all animals, we must inform people that is is happening AND ensure that reporting in the news is fair, accurate, and given the priority it deserves. Handing out leaflets, flyers, brochures and booklets in public is one way to have a powerful impact and reach people who might otherwise never know about these issues – this happens every week in front of La Palette in Toronto, as part of the ongoing protest against the restaurant’s decision to serve horsemeat.
Through this form of direct activism, advocates can expose masses of people to challenging new information and perspectives. However, not everyone can make a commitment of several hours per day or week, nor may they be able to travel long distances doing field-work. But we can all help prevent injustices against horses (or people, the environment etc.) by taking action on the internet and ensuring that what is published and reported is accurate. It’s a daily challenge.
We know is that success is not measured only in large-scale social reform but is also found in moments of connection — in building relationships and raising awareness, in correcting information and assumptions that we know are wrong. We have seen the power of social media coverage that has been devoted to the Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT), better known as “pink slime,” which can be chalked up almost entirely to the attention of countless activists across the United States. The phrase “pink slime” was first used by a former USDA microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein. The current debate began after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver drew attention to the product. This ultimately pushed a few hundred thousand Americans to sign a petition online which demanded a complete stop to the use of pink slime in school food. AFA Foods, a leading American processor of ground beef, has filed for bankruptcy, citing the wave of negative media coverage surrounding their so-called “pink slime” product.
We need to take the lessons-learned from the “pink slime” debacle and transfer them to the horsemeat issues. There are certainly some corollaries – Slaughterhouse Sue Wallis has also proposed that horsemeat be used in schools. The “pink slime” issue is an example of what happens when “clicktivists” are galvanized into action without the necessity of leaving their homes. I have a few recent examples of how this works on the small-scale, and how a small number of people, even one person, can elicit change and create awareness without a significant investment of time.
The Internet is at its best when communities develop based on a vigorous and open exchange of views. While robust disagreement is generally accepted (or perhaps just tolerated), deceptive behaviour is not. The Bates County Blog (Missouri), which normally features news articles such as “Employee of the Month” and “Circuit Court News,” decided to host a poll about horse slaughter. They probably never had so much traffic at their blog site after it was discovered by pro’s and anti’s! The poll apparently passed cookie and IP information from the user’s computer to the polling application server-side as a way to ensure authentication, but it was subject to abuse and multiple voting by some.
To that end, a couple of anti-slaughter advocates decided to enlighten the editors of the Bates County blog by simply forwarding the postings from that “petulant pony “ blog, where the author gloated (a little prematurely, I might add) at the duplication of the votes by the pro-slaughters, who deleted cookies, used IP-concealing proxies and who knows what other “black hat” techniques in order to vote multiple times. Clearly the editors had no choice but to suspend the poll after relaunching it late last week. Of course, the pro-slaughters will rationalize the closure of the poll any way they like, but the posting on the website speaks for itself – what are the chances that they will take a breather from the hysterical responses and read what was actually written? “We have investigated and found that the poll received multiple votes from the exact same locations, indicating that the overall results will not be accurate.” Please take a moment to thank the editor for his honesty. Spin it any way you like, pros, because we know that you live in a world where verifiable facts are considered mere opinion. It was a hot mess and you got caught confessing to stuffing the ballot box. Pwned.
My second example involves the Viandes Richelieu slaughter plant website. Some months ago it was noticed that the Massueville Quebec slaughterhouse had been taking liberties and running with the truth about the horses they slaughter. Their stock of horses was, according to them, bred in beautiful surroundings and fed natural products. Of course Richelieu is not a breeding farm, but a slaughterhouse, so they don’t do any horse breeding, much less in pastoral surroundings (you only have to look at a Google map image of the plant to see this).
To investigate their claims of organic horses frolicking in bountiful pastures, I wrote to Advertising Standards Canada, a non-governmental body made up of advertisers, representatives from advertising agencies and the media, and consumers. It discourages false or misleading advertising by its members through codes of conduct. While they do breed horses, elk and bison at Bouvry in Alberta, they certainly aren’t breeding horses at Richelieu, and can hardly attest to what the horses have been fed in their previous incarnations as privately owned pets and performance animals. I asked Advertising Standards Canada to help me understand exactly what “breeding” was going on in this “happy-horse” slaughterhouse, and where they kept these horses that they bred specifically for slaughter, you know, the ones where they had evidence of traceability ::rollseyes::. Here’s the original website:
Not too long after sending the letter in 2011, I received a response from ASC, and I was advised that Viandes Richelieu had revamped their website to remove the misleading claims. Perhaps it was as a result of the inquiry, or perhaps they decided that their generally sucky website needed an update. In any case, a few minutes of writing likely lead to the removal of misleading language that has given life to the verbiage we hear over and over again from restauranteurs in Toronto serving horsemeat – “our horsemeat is organic.” Here’s the response from Advertising Standards Canada:
OK, so that’s one problem solved, more on Richelieu and their new website later in the blog. In our internet travels we also come across more examples of either accidental errors or deliberate attempts to mislead the public. It’s important to take time to EDUCATE editors, bloggers, and writers whenever we notice that they have either misunderstood information provided, or have been deliberately mislead. There seems to be a lot of this happening with Big-Ag E-zines for some reason. Case in point – the US has not, in any given year, slaughtered anywhere near 9.2 million horses, nor has the slaughter industry provided 400,000 jobs, as evidenced in this next example. And what’s up with the comment about beef, pork, and poultry etc?
I wish someone would ask Charlie Stenholm if he has monsters under his bed, what with all this fear-mongering. It’s more than a touch unreasonable. The people prepping these PR pieces should be giving a side-eye to these numbers, because, while I don’t live in the US, they sure made me do a double-take. 400,000 people working in three slaughterhouses? That would make horse slaughter a larger industry than health care! Those numbers actually refer to the TOTAL number of living horses in the US and the TOTAL number of jobs in all equine related businesses. So that leaves us to wonder – who’s responsible for these grievous errors? Meat spokes-whore Charlie Stenholm? The E-zines? Or someone working in Charlie’s office? Is it accidental or deliberate? And how many more are out there waiting to be discovered? And who might be reading all this bogus information and making decisions based on it? We saw more than one example of these exact same numbers provided to other Pro-Ag websites, and asked the editors of one such site to correct their information. Looks like groups on the receiving-end of Charlie Stenholm’s PR machine need to run all his comments through FactCheck.org before publishing. Just sayin’
To put that into perspective, it took only a handful of activists who sought to correct this misnomer in a polite and diplomatic fashion, and it was accepted and corrected. The resulting post was a mere shadow of its formal self.
And below is a very similar proclamation from another Big-Ag website, that started out with almost the exact same wording as above, but with the inaccurate information removed, which pretty much eliminates half the text in the article.
And then, there’s this, for which I have few words. But it’s the “Beat our Meat Trade News Daily,” where you can read about masturbation, homophobia, and America-bashing along with industry news and food safety issues. I guess the editor must like Canadians though, because we will slaughter anything that can’t outrun us. I almost feel sexually harrassed just by reading this. This is not a blog, but a supposedly professional publication catering to several countries.
I’ve written to this wanker, oh s’cuse me, editor before, and in response to one polite email, received 5 or 6 pervy responses back before blocking his ass. Is this the way professional editors govern themselves? Can you not make reference to your trade without calling your readers wankers or bastards or referencing an act of sexual gratification? And can you think of any reason why you’d want to read this E-zine in future or believe anything they publish? Rather than complain about this, I think it’s funnier and more damaging to the organization to leave it up. No doubt someone other than myself will see fit to give it a well-deserved mocking. Soppy wanker!
So now we come back almost full-circle to Viandes Richelieu and the latest incarnation of their website. Of course, their new website is a whole new breed of offensive, what with the recommendation that pregnant women eat their untraceable horsemeat – am I the only one that thinks that they are tiptoeing dangerously around giving health advice to pregnant women? Pregnant women of all people should NEVER consume raw meat, which is often how horsemeat is consumed. When you think of it, what other products can you buy at a grocery store that come with the recommendation that they should be eaten by pregnant women (aside from vitamins)? And what’s with the comment that customers enjoy “thoroughbreds and half-breeds?” Aren’t they supposed to be declining thoroughbreds? And what’s the point of emphasizing any breed of horse? Once they’re dis-assembled and converted into slabs of meat, an appaloosa is indistinguishable from an arab.
Truly, I think that the business of slaughtering horses is governed by people possessing a degree of intelligence that is far below the mean for the rest of the population. We can’t by shy about going after these purveyors of dis-information. So with the launch of their new website comes the re-launch of my old complaints about their providing misleading information.
We do need to be careful that social media doesn’t foster “Clicktivism,” which may also create a “diffusion of responsibility.” Many legitimate causes get lost in cyberspace because in this age of information, because we sometimes feel that all we need to do to “get involved” is join a fan page, or “like” something our friend has posted. Certainly people are more informed, but what are they doing with that information? I have seen several on-line petitions that absolutely did achieve their end result – 100% verifiable success (not related to horses though), but by signing on-line petitions or forwarding links we must always ask ourselves what exactly are we accomplishing? It’s sometimes misleading us because it lets us off the hook from actually doing something that we can see or measure directly. Be authentic – be a real voice for horses. Personally, I always make comments elsewhere on the internet using my own name because I want pro-slaughter advocates to know that I am always “on” for horses. It can be very gratifying to follow-up and see what became of our on-line efforts, which sometimes takes as little as one email or phone call. As long as someone is spouting bullshit about horse slaughter, someone else should point it out. And I’d love to hear other examples!
“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable” – Marian Wright Edelman