Thursday, August 6, 2015

Not-So-Private Idaho

Federal courts ruled that an Idaho statute barring, inter alia, surreptitious filming of livestock treatment is unconstitutional. EV here. Some of the language of the statute is hairshirt nonsense, making criminal trespass and fraud extra-super-triple-secret-illegal, but that's what you get when you write a statute obviously targeting specific activity. In this case, the specific activity is the infiltration of commercial farms by animal rights activists.

I like to think of these sorts of stealthy activist espionage operations as a way of bolstering informed consent. When I visit my in-laws on their little Lithuanian farm (or my buddies Travis and Jen on their little NH farm), I know exactly what conditions my dinner was raised under: by taking a peek outside. My moral aversions are easily and cheaply addressed with a quick inspection. Ditto for slaughtering. If I saw the hatchet fall on the chicken's neck, I needn't fret that it suffered unduly during its last moments. Supermarket meat is a cipher. All I know when I purchase flesh at the store is what the sell-by date is (and even that might be questionable). I can't even accurately judge the quality of the meat by color or turgidity, what with all the dyes and brine processors can get away with adding. PETA operatives filming abattoir floors replaces whatever flights of fancy I might have had about modern animal husbandry with a [carefully edited for maximum outrage] version of the bloody reality. I can eat my hamburger with more accurate information, helping to internalize what were previously external moral costs. On the margin, this might make meat consumption more euvoluntary.

I think that an interesting, related concern is what role autonomous drones will have in the conflict between commercial farmers (well, slaughterhouses more than farmers, most of the time) and animal rights organizations. Typically, to get the objectionable footage, activists would have to commit some sort of criminal trespass or fraud to gain entry to the grounds. What if you could just send a fleet of quadrocopters with decent cameras attached to get your alarming footage? Technology overcomes legislation yet again?

Maybe we'll get lucky and vat-grown animal protein will exceed the quality of its hoof-raised rival before that becomes much of an issue. I'm eager to find out. I can't wait to taste my first lab-burger.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?