Sunday, 5 August 2012

Viewer distress as we look inside an Australian piggery

One of the biggest animal news items of the last week relates to footage captured covertly inside a New South Wales (NSW) piggery. 

The footage was apparently obtained by a piggery worker, under the guidance of Animal Liberation NSW. Animal Liberation was involved in the collection of the footage over a two month period

According to those who have seen the footage, including representatives from the NSW Department of Primary Industries; RSPCA NSW; Animal Liberation NSW; the manager of the piggery in question; the CEO of Pork Australia; and the NSW Chief Veterinary officer, the footage shows animals experiencing significant suffering. Mark Pearson from Animal Liberation NSW described the vision in the following way:

The evidence that was gathered certainly showed abuse of animals, brutal treatment of animals.
Not treating wounds and injuries and disease and then slaughter of animals with the use of a sledge hammer, and no electrical device was used to stun the animals.

Authorities raided the piggery in response to the footage, which suggests that they found the evidence to be compelling and worthy of further investigation. 

The footage was so newsworthy that is was included in both the ABC (Australia) and SBS news broadcasts on Saturday August 4th. 

The airing of animal related footage as a national news item (and it may well have run on commercial television also - I don't know) suggests that it is a big story and that the treatment depicted in the footage is remarkable. 

What I found most curious, and the reason for writing this post, is that before both the ABC and SBS news segments went to air the respective newsreaders warned the audience that some people might find the scenes distressing. You can watch the ABC broadcast by clicking on this link: The warning comes at the 22 second point.

The news often includes reports about things that are upsetting, shocking, unpleasant, or distressing. Wars are being fought all around the world and as those wars are fought people are displaced and made to suffer in terrible ways. Yet rarely are warnings offered before a news item. The decision by both ABC and SBS to warn viewers that they may find the piggery footage distressing suggests to me that producers at both the ABC and SBS believe that the general public don't like to see animals being treated badly or suffering either prolonged cruelty or bursts of violent activity. Indeed, not only did the SBS newsreader warn her viewers that the footage may be distressing to some, the producers cut out a section and the reporter told the audience that 'what came next' was too distressing to be aired. SBS also pixelated the image of a worker kicking a piglet 'like a football'. 

I don't find it surprising that the community are sensitive to images of animal suffering. My research is predicated on the idea that there is not strong community support for animal suffering. But what I do find curious is: if the community is so distressed by animal suffering, that warning must be issued before news items that contain images of animal suffering can go to air, why do we allow so much animal suffering to take place? 

It would seem that as a society we are both oppose to, and are distressed by, animal suffering. Yet we also generate so much of it. 

Many people seem to agree that sow stalls look like miserable places to live. Many people seem to find the sight of them unpleasant, shocking or distressing. Yet they are perfectly legal, commonly used, and most people eat pork. 

I find it interesting that something can be both confronting to the point of distressing, yet also widely acceptable.

While the piggery footage captured by Animal Liberation NSW clearly depicts extraordinary events, I wonder whether audiences would have been shocked by the footage even if it didn't include piglets being kicked or sows being chased. I suspect they may have still been shocked, although probably less so. I think that many members of the community find the inside of an intensive farm (factory farm) confronting. Yet they exist and are home to many billions of animals in Australia and around the world.   


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