In May of this year, animal welfare group, Mercy for Animals, released a video showing cows being beaten and abused at Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio.
Among other forms of violent abuse, the video showed farm workers using pitchforks to stab cows in the face, legs, and stomach, twisting cows’ tails until the bones snapped, kicking “downed” cows in the face and neck, beating restrained cows in the face with crowbars, and violently punching young calves in the face and stomping on their heads.
In the week that followed the release of the video, Billy Joe Gregg Jr., one of the workers implicated in the video, was charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty, and has since been held in custody on $100,000 bail. Each of the 12 charges holds a maximum fine of $750 and is punishable by 90 days in jail.
After firing Gregg and claiming that the video does not reflect the farm’s commitment to animal care, the dairy released the following statement:
“The video shows animal care that is clearly inconsistent with the high standards we set for our farm and its workers, and we find the specific mistreatment shown on the video to be reprehensible and unacceptable… We will not condone animal abuse on our farm.”
On Tuesday of this week, it was announced that Gary Conklin, the owner of the farm, will not be facing charges at all, after investigators and veterinarians studied the video and concluded that Conklin “acted appropriately”.
As many animal advocates can attest to, there is nothing particularly unusual about the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farm. In fact, it is a routine example of what happens to animals all over the world, whenever they are being used for economic gain.
As long as animals remain the property of humans, and are legally allowed to be used as economic production units – living “machines” who produce eggs, milk, flesh, skin, fur and other bodily parts and secretions for human profit – they will be afforded no significant protection under the law, as the economic interests of the property owner will always trump even the most crucial interests of his or her property.
As explained by Professor of Law Gary Francione in his book Rain without Thunder (p. 132):
“‘Unnecessary’ suffering or ‘cruel’ treatment will come to be understood as that suffering which does not serve some legitimate purpose. And without any notion of absolute prohibitions on the use of animals, all uses of animals that generate social wealth will be regarded as legitimate.”
On any large-scale dairy production facility, there are many routine, perfectly legal rights violations (such as forcible insemination and the cutting off of tails) which ought to horrify any individual who is concerned about animal interests. Dairy cows (and all other animals in production facilities) live a life – from beginning to end – that would easily qualify as abusive, with or without the added horror of encountering sadism from individual workers who have been trained to treat animals like machines.
Tougher regulations – even in the rare cases that they are actually implemented and enforced – only serve to perpetuate the idea that it is possible to use animals in such a way that would be morally acceptable. If we believe that animals have an interest in the continuation of their lives and in the avoidance of suffering, then it is absurd to campaign for regulation of an industry that has been built around the idea that animals are ‘things’ – objects that we can use however we so choose.
As with any other form of industrialized animal use, consumers have the choice either to participate in it or to refuse the products of exploitation and opt out of the demand-supply cycle altogether. Humans have no need for animal products, and the increasing number of vegans on the planet is a testament to how easy it is to live a healthy, fulfilling life without participating in the systematic abuse and unnecessary killing that goes on in the animal industry every day.