King's main conclusion seems to be that the coverage of 'Porkgate' is far more complex than it is being portrayed:
What is unfortunate about this pattern is that there is little time for members of the public to consider the issues carefully and clearly, and arrive at a reasoned judgment.Actually, as I tried to argue last week, there things have hardly been presented like that, at least in the Herald. The amount of crap thrown at Mike King (the funny one ... oh wait...) for changing position has been amazing, and was taken to another level on Sunday by a (seemingly untrue) HoS claim that he tried to solicit extra money from the Pork Board "just months" before this scandal erupted. Meanwhile, articles have continually emphasised the increased prices of pork that would result from the scrapping of sow crates and the fact that the farm in fact met legal requirements, rather than the fact that the legal requirements are rather dodgy indeed.
Why is this? The aim of those involved is to gain public support - in terms of votes, viewership or consumers. The quickest way to do this is to appeal to the sympathies of the public, and things proceed much like an exercise in advertising.
Indoor-housed pigs are presented as variously suffering, mad, depressed, unclean, unhealthy, or dead. Outdoor pigs are presented as variously happy, perky, well-balanced, healthy, and alive.
The pork industry (board and farmers) are presented as defensive, uncaring, insensitive, and profiteering.
Mike King and SAFE are presented as quite the opposite. It's like the public is in a cartoon with a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. We've all seen those cartoons - when is the devil ever right?
But that's as may be. Dr King's main 'philosophical' point in this piece revolves around the meaning of the word exploitation, and this is where it gets really interesting. By 'interesting', of course, I mean interesting in the sense that the posse of first-year philosophy students who sit in the corner at a party talking about what 'real' means is interesting. Apparently, New Zealanders aren't against exploiting animals, because we exploit all animals, including pets, all the time. Your dog exploits you for food and shelter; you exploit it for cute puppy cuddles. Clearly, then, the practice of putting pigs permanently or semi-permanently in a crate so small that they can't move, or even lie down, let alone live anything that might be considered the normal life of a social animal, is very complex, and requires much chin-stroking and cod philosophy.
Christ. Sure, and a well-managed concentration camp might be preferable to people rough-sleeping in the streets - but that's hardly an argument for gas chambers. Dr King is so excited by his musings on the meaning of exploitation that he seems determined to muddy the waters further:
But in intensive farming perhaps the bargain has lost its fairness. Farmers and consumers benefit financially, but what do the pigs get out of confinement, poor hygiene, barren environments, and so on?
Unfortunately it's not this simple. We might agree on some idea of fairness in our dealings with animals (no easy thing in itself), but there is no guarantee this will divide the pig industry into the unfair intensive farmers and the fair outdoor farmers. Each of these has their own welfare advantages and disadvantages and a well-managed indoor farm may be preferable to a poorly managed outdoor one.
I'm a vegetarian, so you know what I think. But the fact that even free-range pigs are exploited seems desperately uninteresting to me in the context of the grave exploitation of pigs on industrial farms. To use another metaphor, it's like saying that feeding the starving is a complex issue because there's quite a few other people who could use a bit more to eat as well - I'm a bit peckish as I write, for example.
SAFE is not in favour of the farming of animals for food at all, which means they do not support the farming of pigs for food in free-range systems either. They clearly prefer it to indoor farming, but for them it seems this is a change from wrong to less wrong, not wrong to right. After all, even in the best outdoor, free-range farm, pigs are managed to optimise productivity.
This means lots of pigs born, weaned early, and fattened quickly on high nutrient density diets, then slaughtered, hopefully with low backfat levels to appeal to health-minded consumers.
So where does this leave the debate? Unfortunately, the debate is complex.No, Mike, this is one case where it's not. There seems to have been a genuine emotional reaction - however ephemeral - on the part of ordinary people to what they saw in that video. The treatment of pigs in sow crates is disgusting enough that there's no need for these relativist musings. Of course there should be further debate on the treatment of animals in this country, as there should be about dozens of other issues. What that doesn't mean is that we sit down in the corner of the party, stroking our beards and talking about meaning while everyone else is dancing.