Videos of an­i­mal cru­elty at fac­tory farms prompt out­rage in foie gras-lov­ing France

A vi­ral video cam­paign has moved the govern­ment to act “There are some dys­func­tions to cor­rect”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Carol Mat­lack Edited by Al­li­son Hoffman Bloomberg.com

France has long been known for its foie gras and horse-meat steaks. These days, it’s also the epi­cen­ter of a sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive an­i­mal-rights cam­paign. Armed with grisly un­der­cover videos shot in slaugh­ter­houses, a group of ve­gan ac­tivists called L214—the name refers to the an­i­mal-wel­fare sec­tion of France’s civil code—has used so­cial me­dia to spur pub­lic out­rage. That’s prompted a govern­ment crack­down on meat pro­duc­ers. L214 co-founder Brigitte Goth­ière says, “We’ve shat­tered the im­age of meat.”

In footage shared widely on­line, an­i­mals writhe in pain as they bleed to death or are dis­mem­bered, in vi­o­la­tion of rules re­quir­ing that an­i­mals be ren­dered un­con­scious be­fore slaugh­ter. One of the fa­cil­i­ties shown in the videos was cer­ti­fied as “or­ganic.” Au­thor­i­ties or­dered the clo­sure of three slaugh­ter­houses fea­tured in the videos; they were later al­lowed to re­open un­der strict su­per­vi­sion. Par­lia­ment has ap­pointed a spe­cial com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate.

The Agri­cul­ture Min­istry, tra­di­tion­ally a cham­pion of pro­duc­ers’ in­ter­ests, or­dered an emer­gency in­spec­tion of ev­ery abat­toir in the coun­try. It’s also in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion, now pro­gress­ing through Par­lia­ment, to im­pose crim­i­nal penal­ties on own­ers and em­ploy­ees of fa­cil­i­ties that mis­treat an­i­mals as well as whis­tle-blower pro­tec­tions for work­ers. Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Stéphane Le Foll in March cited L214’s “hor­ri­ble im­ages” in an­nounc­ing those mea­sures.

France’s meat pro­duc­ers haven’t dis­puted the ac­cu­racy of the videos. Do­minique Lan­glois, pres­i­dent of in­dus­try lobby group In­ter­bev, calls them “shock­ing and un­ac­cept­able.” His group sup­ports the govern­ment’s plan to crim­i­nal­ize an­i­mal mis­treat­ment and pro­tect whis­tle-blow­ers. The L214 videos don’t re­flect con­di­tions at most French slaugh­ter­houses, he says, but “there are

some dys­func­tions to cor­rect.”

L214’s ear­lier cam­paigns, which in­volved fu­neral pro­ces­sions for an­i­mals and per­for­mance art dis­plays, had lit­tle ef­fect. “We weren’t al­ways taken se­ri­ously,” says Goth­ière, a for­mer teacher who founded L214 in 2008 with her part­ner, Sébastien Ar­sac. But since the video cam­paign be­gan late last year, the group’s mod­est of­fices in north­east­ern Paris have been flooded with vol­un­teers and do­na­tions. Staff has dou­bled, to 20 peo­ple. Goth­ière says slaugh­ter­house and poul­try-farm work­ers are now com­ing for­ward to fur­nish ma­te­rial for still more videos, in­clud­ing two re­leased on June 29 show­ing work­ers butcher­ing still-con­scious horses and other an­i­mals at abat­toirs in the Alps and in south­ern France.

France’s his­tory of an­i­mal-pro­tec­tion ac­tivism goes back at least to an 1850 law ban­ning cruel treat­ment of pets. But the French tra­di­tion­ally haven’t shown much con­cern for the wel­fare of the an­i­mals they eat. The coun­try ac­counts for about two-thirds of global con­sump­tion of foie gras, a tar­get of bans in Europe and in the U.S., be­cause it is made by force-feed­ing birds to en­large their liv­ers.

L214 has been clever to take aim at French con­sumers’ be­lief that their coun­try shuns the fac­tory farm­ing tech­niques used in the U.S. and else­where, says El­iz­a­beth Cherry, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Man­hat­tanville Col­lege in Pur­chase, N.Y., who’s stud­ied the French an­i­mal-rights move­ment. L214’s videos “are new to the French con­scious­ness,” she says.

It’s not clear that L214’s cam­paign will ad­vance its ul­ti­mate goal: per­suad­ing peo­ple to be­come ve­g­ans. The cur­rent crack­down could have the re­verse ef­fect, ul­ti­mately en­cour­ag­ing meat con­sump­tion by re­as­sur­ing the pub­lic that it’s be­ing pro­duced hu­manely. Goth­ière, who stopped eating meat in 1993, says that even if most French aren’t ready to give up their steak frites, the L214 cam­paign is help­ing her coun­try­men “take steps in a good di­rec­tion.” She adds: “We’ve pushed them out of their com­fort zone.”

The bot­tom line A ve­gan ac­tivist group’s so­cial me­dia cam­paign is spurring France to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion crim­i­nal­iz­ing an­i­mal mis­treat­ment.

A joint protest by L214 and an­other an­i­mal-rights group in Lyon

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