As the old saying goes, if you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. But as it turns out, if you want those eggs at a reasonable price, you also gotta kill millions of baby chicks. It’s not a pretty sight, as this graphic video shows the world.
(Warning: Run time is 3:44, but you’ll probably get grossed out and quit early.)
That clip from Mercy for Animals caused quite a stir — at least among city folk. If you skipped it or bailed early, the clip shows hatchery workers known as “sexers” flipping male chicks into a grinder where they meet an ugly but instant death. It’s part of the process of making that omelet, we’re told. Since the cockerels won’t ever lay eggs, they have no value to egg farmers. The cost of raising them for meat is prohibitive, the industry says.
Cruel and inhumane? Think about it in practical terms. Whether we A) euthanize the chicks early on or B) raise them to maturity for their meat, the result is the same: They die. But if they die early on, the egg farm makes a profit and you get your omelet for $4.95 at IHOP.
Is Option A really more cruel than Option B? You may be inclined to think so after the video. It stirs the emotions and maybe has you gagging on your Egg McMuffin. That was the intent.
What’s the egg industry to do? PR professionals don’t set policies for the hatchery. They may not even have input at the “table.” But as paid advocates, they must defend those policies in a public forum. So what would you do in this case? Lobby for change? Resign your job? Or tell your company’s story?
A few days after the video went viral, Paul Lasley, a rural sociologist from Iowa State University, tried to show us the flip side of this issue with his comments in this story. Lasley, who grew up on a farm, knows how the “sausage” is made.
”Part of that I think is the disconnect that many consumers have with agriculture,” Lasley said. ”Fewer people actually grow up on a farm and kill animals.”
It’s not the first time agriculture has been scrutinized for inhumane practices, the AP story tell us:
Last year, California voters approved a measure that bars farmers from confining veal calves, pregnant pigs and egg-laying hens in spaces so small that they can’t turn around, lie down or extend their limbs. The major elements of the law will take effect in 2015 over the objections of farmers, who worry it will be costly to expand henhouses and buy more land.
No moral person defends animal cruelty, but how far must agricultural industries go to implement reforms? And who pays for them? Before you answer, understand that each time you add to animal comfort (or in this case, lifespan), you add cost to the final product, and you make your client less competitive in the marketplace.
Sorry, but that’s the way it works.
Videos like “Hatchery Horrors,” one-sided though they are, provide a useful lesson for PR students and professionals — and everyone concerned about business ethics. Now that you’ve seen it, I’m guessing you’d rather not defend these chick killers. But I suspect most of you would gladly accept a fee to promote a new deluxe omelet breakfast at IHOP.
Like Lasley says, there’s a big disconnect.
As PR counselors, we can and should encourage humane practices in agriculture. But we can’t change the economics of the business, and we surely can’t make roosters lay eggs.
Animals die, and then we eat them. It’s been that way since cavemen sharpened their first spears. And since most of us aren’t interested in joining the vegan movement, we choose not to think about it. As PR professionals and paid advocates for industries and products, we do the best we can to reconcile our clients’ behaviors with our own personal ethics and the realities of the marketplace.
Here’s what I really think
Everyone who eats meat should witness the process from death to packaging. Go ahead, cringe. But your supermarket steak doesn’t miraculously appear in its shrink wrapping. It’s a bloody event.
It comforts me to know that the steaks in my freezer were free-range critters until they wandered into my rifle sights. But in the end, how different are they from those baby chicks? And who will be the judge?