A lot can happen in 48 hours—including the slaughter of approximately 50 million animals (not including fish and other sea animals) for food in the United States alone. While ag-gag laws are indeed bad for all the reasons that people have pointed out, including that it often takes much longer than 48 hours to document a pattern of law-breaking, it is simply not true that without these videos we will be completely blind to the violence in animal agriculture, much of which is perfectly legal—unless we’re talking about willful blindness to the fact that, even if those pigs had not been punched, those turkeys not been beaten, and those cows been able to walk to slaughter, all of these animals would still have had their throats slit. Whistleblower attorney Gordon Schnell put this point well, if unintentionally: “Afterall [sic],” hewrote, “we cannot rely on the animals to tell us when farmers behave badly. …Until we can talk to the animals, the furtive photo or videotape is the best we can do…”
But what about when farmers aren’t misbehaving? What about when they are just doing their job of killing animals for us to eat? If we could talk to the animals, would they ask only that we not beat them or keep them intensively confined, that we not let them enter our food supply if they have gotten too sick awaiting their slaughter to walk to it? Or would they beg us not to slaughter them at all, plead with us to eat plants and leave them alone to live out their lives? Undercover videos are extremely important to trigger the emotions that might allow these very rational concerns to resonate. When we watch those videos, however, we should not let revulsion at particular acts of cruelty blind us to an entire system that is violent at its core, one in which we can’t help but participate when we eat animals. If we have no better explanation for why we eat some animals but not others—“[F]ine we eat cows and everything, but horse meat? No.”—perhaps we shouldn’t be eating animals at all.