THE BLOG

Armed Takeover in Oregon: Is the Meat Industry Above the Law?

01/06/2016 06:21 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2017

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Two members of the meat industry--cattle ranchers in Oregon--are convicted of arson after torching a federal wildlife refuge to allegedly cover up their illegal slaughter of deer on the federal land. And now that they're going to prison for their crime, other meat producers are up in arms--literally. Fellow ranchers, wielding an arsenal of firearms, have now forcefully occupied a federal building on the wildlife refuge.

Just what are they upset about? As their spokesperson Ammon Bundy noted, "They are continuing to expand the refuge at the expense of the ranchers." Ammon is the son of Cliven Bundy, who last year staged his own armed struggle against the government when he was illegally grazing his cattle on federal land, during which he infamously suggested that blacks may have been better off as slaves than today.

That these ranchers consider federal land set aside to protect vulnerable wildlife's habitat to be their own shows just how entitled many in this industry perceive themselves. In fact, as detailed in "Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West", Western cattle ranchers have a long history of being subsidized to conduct their commercial agribusiness on public lands.
But the routine federal handouts Western ranchers get, and even their armed siege presently under way in Oregon, are hardly the only times meat industry representatives have declared themselves above the law.

In fact, meat industry lobbyists have successfully passed legislation in most American states exempting "customary agricultural practices" from state anti-cruelty codes. In other words, acts of cruelty that could get you thrown in jail if the victim were a dog--like cutting off their genitals without pain relief--are perfectly legal when the victim is a calf or pig and the perpetrator is a cattle rancher. (Castration without pain relief is standard in the beef and pork industries.)

As well, the animal ag lobby has successfully passed ag-gag laws in numerous states which make it a crime to be a whistleblower at a factory farm or slaughterhouse. One woman in Utah was even arrested simply for videotaping a slaughter plant's abusive activities from a public sidewalk.

Another special privilege the meat industry expects? So-called "right to farm" laws which really are more aptly known as "right to harm," as they seek to block lawmakers and voters from passing any rules--environmental, public health, or otherwise--on how farmers and ranchers conduct their agribusinesses.

And this is only a very partial list of the ways in which the meat industry typically views itself as deserving special exemptions from basic societal laws. The industry wants no rules whatsoever, all the while receiving billions of dollars of subsidies from the federal government it. The hypocrisy is truly stunning, especially for an industry that's so typically disdainful of "socialism."

So viewed in this context, it becomes clearer perhaps why those waging the armed siege taking place in Oregon right now don't view themselves as terrorists. Rather, above-the-law is simply the way the meat industry is accustomed to operating in our country.