But what has this got to do with humane washing?
Well, humane washing is basically the same thing but instead of trying to make you think that their products are sustainable, it’s a tactic the meat, dairy and egg industries use to try and convince you that their products are ethically produced and good for the animals they raise and kill.Free-range, cage-free, high welfare, humanely raised, responsibly sourced, family farmed, local, traceable, and the list goes on. Yep, they’re all examples of humane washing.
And humane washing isn’t just about the labels and terms that you read on the packaging, it’s the imagery as well. Happy animals grazing in fields, chickens with lots of space, photos of smiling farmers next to their animals, or images of the animals themselves. For example, laughing cow cheese and St Helen’s goat milk, who also use the word ‘gentle’ on their packaging to describe the milk.
In the case of laughing cow cheese, a supplier for laughing cow was exposed hitting newborn calves, performing painful mutilations on them and leaving them out to die in freezing temperatures.
And with St Helen’s, a farm that supplies milk for them was exposed last year, with workers shown kicking and punching the goats, twisting their tails, hitting them with poles, holding them up by their necks, slamming them against objects, and much more. Not so very gentle.
Supermarkets have even branded their own-brand animal products with fake farm names, such as Tesco’s Woodside Farm and Lidl’s Birchwood Farm, which are used to conjure up a romanticised image in the mind of consumers about where their animal products come from and distract us from the reality, which is a far cry from the image these companies want us to picture.Marks & Spencer even made up their own Scottish Loch, called Lochmuir, which, even though it doesn’t exist, is displayed on their packaging of salmon products to create the impression of wholesome Scottish salmon farming. But the truth is, there’s nothing wholesome or ethical about salmon farming, and investigations on Scottish salmon farms, including ones that supply Marks & Spencer just further prove this.
And of course, there’s the soundbites and lines of dialogue that every animal farmer repeats like a mantra:
“Animal welfare is the most important thing on our farm”
“I love my animals”
“I would never let anything bad happen to one of my animals”
“We have the highest animal welfare standards in the world”
The consistent repetition of these statements and others like them plays into something called the illusory truth effect, a phrase that refers to the notion that repeated statements are perceived to be more truthful than new statements. In effect, the more times we hear farmers humane wash what they do, the easier it becomes for us as consumers to fall into the trap of believing them.
Similar to greenwashing, the fundamental purpose of humane washing is to convince you to buy their product. It is a marketing ploy to drive sales. The Director of Technical Marketing of Mountaire, one of the largest chicken producers in the US, said as much at a 2020 industry webinar: “The one thing you want a label to do is to reduce consumer concerns with buying your product.”
Now using labels to sell products isn’t a problem if the product you are trying to sell is an ethical product and if the labels being used are honest. However, this is where the animal farming industries find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Simply put, their products are not ethical. By the virtue that animals are mutilated, forcibly impregnated, caged and confined, exploited and ultimately killed needlessly, the concept of animal farming being ethical is a juxtaposition by its very nature.
Animals are sentient beings, who can feel, suffer and have subjective experiences, which makes everything that we do to them automatically unethical, regardless of how we do it, or what label we use to describe that exploitation. So these industries have to use terms and labels that purposefully hide the reality behind these products and humane wash the truth, because if we were shown the objective reality of what happens to animals if the images and labels were honest depictions of what animals are forced to endure, well we wouldn’t want to buy their flesh and secretions in the first place.
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