#lovecdnbeef, #hateacademicfreedom

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, Canada Beef, Inc. (“an independent national organization representing the marketing and promotion of the Canadian cattle and beef industry worldwide”) held a Twitter event to promote eating the dead flesh of cows. They called it a “Twitter party,” I called it a “death cult.” It seems the idea would be that you send them pictures of the dead animals on your plates and they would say things like, “Wow! That’s a really great piece of dead flesh!” Every so often, someone would be rewarded with a gift certificate or a meat thermometer. At some point, the hashtag started to “trend” on Twitter, whence it came to my attention. As readers know, non-humans–especially their treatment, rights, and the law regulating both–is an interest of mine. It is an active area of research and teaching and it has also significantly affected how I live in and relate to the world. Needless to say, I spoke with professional authority derived from years of study and activist zeal from realizing that animal exploitation is the single greatest system of evil ever devised by humans (and we have a real good track record when it comes to finding horrible ways to cause terrible suffering to sentient creatures). I took this as an ideal opportunity to intervene into their promotion of a deeply cruel and, indeed, evil practice.

Thursday morning I woke up to an email from a media relations officer on campus who had concerns that my Twitter account had been “hacked.” This was confusing to me, but I suppose it was possible: perhaps a misguided agricultural student tried to break into my Twitter account and somehow Twitter had alerted Carleton University. Fortunately this was not the case. The truth was far worse: apparently Canada Beef, Inc. took exception to what I said, and, rather than attempt to address anything I said (Twitter does allow replies, after all) or just ignore what I said, decided to complain to my employer. It isn’t insignificant that they complained to my employer rather than saying something to me on Twitter or by sending me an email (my personal and professional email addresses are very easy to find). They complained to my employer because they wanted me to “get into trouble.” Their purposes were coercive and intimidatory. They wanted to cause professional inconveniences: sanctions, monitoring, firing? Who knows. They were successful in this endeavour in that writing this account took up my Thursday afternoon when I could have been more productive preparing for teaching next week. That’s right: the pettiness of Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations at Canada Beef, Inc. has stolen my attention from my students–this is on top of the millions of lives destroyed annually by the “cattle industry” represented by Canada Beef, Inc. I’m sure that Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations for Canada Beef, Inc. will provide an apology to my students–and to the 3.5 million cows they kill annually.

I’ll reproduce their email in full, but I should remind you, the email was not sent to me, it was sent to someone at Carleton University and it eventually made its way to me:

From: Heather Travis [mailto:htravis@canadabeef.ca]

Sent: January-30-13 2:29 PM

Subject: Staff Twitter account for @Carleton_U Prof

Hi,

I hope this note finds you well. I am writing because I suspect one of your staff member’s Twitter accounts has been hacked. Last night our organization hosted a Twitter chat/party, which we do regularly. Over the course of the evening and later this morning a number of tweets with profanity and other negativities were directed our way. While of course tweets with differing opinions are not uncommon to us, I was a bit taken aback to see such negativity and foul language come from someone who is (according to his profile) a professor at Carleton.

Which is why I am notifying you – I suspect the account was hacked. I cannot find any other contact information for this person, other than his Twitter. I am hoping by contacting you, you will be able to reach out to him to address this.

The twitter handle is @Craig_McFarlane. I have attached a small sampling of some of the tweets.

Please don’t hesitate to call or email me if you have any questions or would like to chat. Thanks, Heather

Heather Travis Director, Public Relations

CANADA BEEF INC.

2000 Argentia Road, Plaza 4, Suite 101 Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, L5N 1W1 Tel : 905 821-4900 x 215 Fax : 905 821-4915 Email: htravis@canadabeef.ca www.beefinfo.org

Let’s begin with the trivial details.

  • “profanity and other negativities … such negativity and foul language.” The sum of the “profanity” was the word “asshat.” If they found anything I said negative, it is only because they find that the truth hurts and pain, as we all know, is generally viewed as a negative: just ask the cows that the Canadian beef industry slaughters–a full 3.5 million of them in 2011. But, setting this aside, the beef industry, being a sub-set of animal exploitation in general, is, in my view, criminal and immoral. It, like all animal exploiting industries, ought to be abolished. Should I respond to their theatre of cruelty with positivity and high fives? What sort of world do we live in when re-tweeting and high-fiving pictures of dead animals constitutes “positivity” while pointing out the obvious, that this is a celebration of death and cruelty, is “negativity”?

  • “someone who is (according to his profile) a professor at Carleton.” My Twitter profile (screen capture) has never referred to me as “professor at Carleton.” It specifically says that I “teach sociology & legal studies @Carleton_U,” but it does not say I am a “professor.” Perhaps we can pardon Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations at Canada Beef, Inc. for ignorance of the political economy of post-secondary employment (universities manage to keep this a secret from students and their parents, after all) but a director of public relations cannot be pardoned for making stuff up. But then, maybe “making stuff up” is precisely the job description for “Director of Public Relations.”

  • “Which is why I am notifying you – I suspect the account was hacked.” No, Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations is not notifying my employer because they suspect my account was hacked, but because they want me to tell my employer that my account was not hacked and thus affirm responsibility for what I said. I have no problem affirming responsibility: I said exactly what I said and I will do it again because in this case I am blameless while the beef industry–like all animal exploiters–is not blameless. The reason why Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations contacted my employer was solely to cause professional inconveniences for me.

  • “I cannot find any other contact information for this person, other than his Twitter.” Either Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations is an idiot or they are a liar. (These are not mutually exclusive, of course.) Entering my name in Google auto-produces the following suggestions, all of which lead to me: “Craig McFarlane Carleton,” “Craig McFarlane Twitter,” and “Craig McFarlane Sociology.” The first link for “Craig McFarlane Carleton” leads to this, which has my Carleton e-mail address prominently displayed; the second leads to my Twitter profile, which links to this site, the About page of which has a link to my personal email address; and the third leads to a combination of these two links. Furthermore, the analytics for this site did not have any searches arriving at it through any version of my name between Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon, when Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations sent her email to my employer. Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations for Canadian Beef, Inc. made absolutely no attempt to contact me; Heather Travis’s first and only attempt was to complain to my employer and hope that I would suffer repercussions.

  • “Which is why I am notifying you … I am hoping by contacting you, you will be able to reach out to him to address this.” It isn’t clear what the “this” means in context: Heather Travis’s “concern” that my Twitter account was “hacked”? (Thanks, but I don’t need your concern. Please direct your concern to the millions of cows your industry kills each year.) That I interfered with Heather Travis’s “Twitter party”? That Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations, is not able to control an open medium such as Twitter? That an academic with a background in animal law and animal ethics would take exception to the existence of her industry? That the university would punish me? The most likely answer is that all of these are at least partially true; except, of course, the “hacking” concern which is transparently disingenuous.

Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations included a .docx (really!?) of tweets they found objectionable. I’ll reproduce them rather than the .docx (really!?) file:

  • @CanadianBeef SUPPORT CANADIAN BEEF BY NOT KILLING COWS, ASSHATS #lovecdnbeef (link)
  • Hey #lovecdnbeef! Where’s my thermometer!? I’d to stick it in your heart and see how cold and cruel it is. Thanks! (link)
  • “Tainted with e. coli” is science for “shit-covered.” Secret: “untainted” beef still has shit on it. Shitburgers, anyone? #lovecdnbeef (link)
  • @howatt_namis The world’s cattle consume 760m tonnes of grain/a. That is enough to feed 9B people. Ergo #lovecdnbeef kills the global poor. (link) [@howatt_namis sent messages to me--I did not contact @howatt_namis--attempting to challenge the veracity of my claims.]
  • #lovecdnbeef is nihilism in action! Celebrate a hugely government subsidized death cult! Don’t have a family doctor? At least beef is cheap! (link)
  • Based upon the response to my tweetbombing #lovecdnbeef the future of animal exploitation in Canada is attracting top talent. NOT! (link)

Notably, Canada Beef, Inc. did not object to the claim that cows are routinely and legally transported for two days without food and water and then hung upside down by a leg to have their throats slashed while semi-conscious. Nor did Canada Beef, Inc. object to the claim that consuming beef substantially increases your risk of developing cancer. Nor did Canada Beef, Inc. object to the claim that animal agriculture is the largest contributor to environmental degradation and climate change in the world. At least that is something: animal exploiting industries routinely deny these facts.

Let’s evaluate what I said:

  • Support cows by not killing cows. This one is pretty obvious. By all accounts, killing beings is the opposite of supporting them: it is deliberately ending their lives for, in this case, the pleasure of a fickle palette. (Euthanasia is the obvious exception to this when the killing is done in the interest of the one being killed; this, however, clearly does not apply in the case of killing cows to transform them into chunks of meat.) Support for cows does not include owning them as property and all that entails: viz., reducing their capacity to suffer, feel and die to an economic calculation.

  • Thermometer. Quickly scanning through the #lovecdnbeef hash-tag, I saw that someone had won a meat thermometer. Given my contributions to the hash-tag, I had hoped to win something as well, perhaps a thermometer or a gift certificate bearing a trivial credit on it. Sadly, I won neither of these. The point of the tweet was plainly obvious, but apparently the plain obvious truth is hard to bare. I was making a comparison between the heated piece of dead flesh that was being enjoyed for rather trivial reasons and the person, who no doubt thinks of themselves as an average, normal, well-to-do, law-abiding, moral person, who is consuming a chunk of flesh from an animal who died in absolute, abject terror amidst the screams, shit, piss, and blood of other creatures just like him. Such musings are clearly fair-game given the Twitter profile (screen capture) for @CanadianBeef, the sponsor of the #lovecdnbeef hashtag: “I’m [i.e., a chunk of dead flesh] hard to resist, scrumptious, and bring joy to those at the table with me.” @CanadianBeef is engaging in what is usually referred to as “suicide food“–the idea that animals want to abused, killed, and consumed for the pleasure of humans. This view of animals is no different than the view of dog and cock fighters who claim that the dogs and roosters want to bleed and die for the pleasure of spectators. @CanadianBeef’s Twitter profile is grotesque; my morbid comment merely met them on the same terrain. Anyone who pretends–or, worse, believes–that animals want to be abused, want to be killed, and want to be eaten are by any reasonable standard “cold and cruel.” Thermometers, of course, are instruments for determining temperature; i.e., if something is “cold” or “hot.” Coldness and cruelty are routinely conjoined with one another metaphorically.

  • Tainted with E. coli. Again, scanning through the #lovecdnbeef hashtag, someone made reference to E. coli and I decided to riff on that. (I wonder if Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations for Canada Beef, Inc. also complained to their employer?) E. coli is a naturally occurring gut bacteria present in feces. Colloquially, an E. coli infection–diarrhea and vomiting–is called “ass-to-mouth disease” on the basis of the mechanism of transmission: i.e., getting shit in your mouth. Along with other diseases transmitted through foods, it is also called “food poisoning” or, when applied to hamburgers, “hamburger disease.” This is why, for instance, you wash your hands after using a washroom (because washrooms are filled with fecal flakes and fecal flakes are filled with E. coli) and why you must cook meat until it reaches certain internal temperatures (i.e., hot enough to kill the E. coli–a thermometer, such as the one handed out as a prize by @CanadianBeef is recommended). Most people will remember the “massive” recall of beef products in the fall of 2012 in Canada due to an E. coli contamination. If you don’t, here is a statement from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The only way for an E. coli contamination to take place is through direct contact of meat with shit. Such contact is unavoidable given that slaughterhouses are filled with, in addition to rivers of blood, shit. Health Canada recommends that all meat be cooked to certain internal temperatures because it must be assumed that all meat contains E. coli; in other words, that there is shit in your ground beef, shit on your steak, and shit in your hot dog. Or, in other words, your hamburger–in addition to being the ground flesh of a thinking, feeling, sensitive being–is also filled with shit. Recalls occur when too much E. coli is found in meat or when an especially dangerous strain is found to be present; however, this does not negate the fact that all meat has shit on it. Because E. coli contamination is unavoidably a part of slaughter, there is an acceptable amount of shit that can be in and on meat.

  • 760m tonnes of grain. It is well-established that meat production–in addition to being an industry organized around bringing beings into existence so they can be killed and eaten–is one of the least efficient industries ever devised. 760 million tonnes of grain is fed to cattle globally on an annual basis. Meat production in first world countries is a significant contributor to global food insecurity because that amount of grain is enough to feed 9 billion humans (i.e., roughly 1.5 times as many humans that exist at present) and just five percent of that–a mere 40 million tonnes of grain–would be enough to alleviate starvation in Africa. Through putting in multiple kilograms of grain (and dozens of liters of water) into each kilogram of meat protein produced, meat industries operate a significant net loss vis a vis consumable protein: more food is destroyed in making food than there is food made. Through deliberately producing billions of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and others and feeding them grain, a deliberate decision is being made that first world appetites–which are excessively meat heavy in comparison with the rest of the world–take precedence over third world survival. Every time you eat a burger or a steak, you are contributing to global starvation. In addition to contributing to world starvation, the meat industry is also one of the single largest contributors to environmental degradation and climate change. Not only does meat production destroy the lives of animals, it also destroys the lives of the global poor and the health of the global rich through heart disease, cancer, and obesity related complications such as diabetes.

  • Subsidies. In a context where health, education and social welfare budgets are being slashed by provincial and federal governments, the Harper government nonetheless found $3 billion dollars to invest in the Growing Forward 2 Initiative. There are more examples, of course, such as supply-management schemes that guarantee milk prices for “producers” (note: not the actual producers, the dairy cows themselves, of course!), provide cheap hay and feed for farmers who have poor business strategies and are unable to plan to buy adequate food for their herds (which is ironically caused by their own business practices that have changed the climate to such an extent that they can no longer count on producing enough feed for the cows!), generous insurance schemes (there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of barn fires in recent years; it is believed that many farmers burn their barns down–”electrical difficulties”–because the cash payout from insurance is greater than the market value of the animals killed in the fire), or free money to expand and renovate slaughterhouses (when was the last time that government gave you $40 million to build an addition on your house?). But, more to the point, if we look at the About page for Canada Beef, Inc.–the organization that complained about me–we read the following: “Canada Beef Inc. is an independent national organization representing the research, marketing and promotion of the Canadian cattle and beef industry worldwide. Its efforts to maximize demand for Canadian beef and optimize the value of Canadian beef products is funded by cattle producers and the National Beef Check-Off, which in turn makes it possible to access beef industry market development funds [i.e., subsidies] provided by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta” (emphasis mine). In other words, in addition to promoting the consumption of dead cow flesh with “Twitter parties,” Canada Beef, Inc. also exists to assist connecting “cattle producers” to generous government subsidies. Does Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations for Canadian Beef, Inc. have no shame? So, yes, ground beef is cheap but when you get cancer from eating it, don’t expect to be able to find a family doctor to refer you to non-existent or over-stretched cancer treatment programs.

  • Top talent. One of my tweets commented on the transportation of cattle being two days long. An agricultural student challenged me on this saying, “I would suggest you do your research before you make accusations such as these.” The student then provided a link to the Health of Animals regulations, which govern transportation. As I know but not, apparently, agricultural college students, sections 148(1)(b) and 148(2) regulate the transportation of cattle. In effect, section 148(1)(b) says, “If you are transporting cattle, you may starve and dehydrate them for forty-eight hours.” However, section 148(2) says, “But, if you are transporting the cattle to a destination where they will be fed and given water, then you can transport them for fifty-two hours without food or water.” By all accounts, two days is forty-eight hours long and, by all accounts, fifty-two hours is more than two days long. If agricultural students do not know how long a day is, let alone basic transportation regulations, the animal exploitation industries are truly attracting top talent–NOT! Sadly, this one agricultural student was not alone: at least three others who are identifiable as agricultural college students also replied to tweets with inaccurate information and belligerent opprobrium. Unlike @CanadianBeef it never occurred to me to contact these students’s parents, teachers, universities or employers.

What, then, is the nature of the complaint? The point of all this is that animal exploiting industries are extremely litigious: I am not the first academic studying these issues who has been attacked in this way nor am I the first activist to have been attacked in this way. Fortunately, I live in Canada and, thus, my factually correct interference with the #lovecdnbeef “Twitter party/death cult” could not be construed as terrorism. But, if I were in the United States and if a single person read my tweets and thought about the morality of their eating practices and decided to refrain from eating meat, under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), my tweets could have been deemed terrorism and, like other activists and academics, I could have become a target of the FBI and grand juries. (Terrorism under the AETA has the extremely broad definition of interfering with the profitability of “animal enterprises.”) For more on the AETA, see Will Potter’s book Green is the New Red or Vasile Stanescu’s paper, “Paper Tigers: Nonviolent ‘Terrorists’ and the Danger of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.” But, note, the Canadian federal government has recently identified “eco-terrorists”–those who are opposed to killing billions of animals to make Big Macs and clear-cutting forests–as a growth area for future policing. We should expect organizations like Canada Beef, Inc. to lobby for legislation comparable to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and other “ag-gag” acts in Canada.

At no point was Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations ever concerned that my Twitter account was “hacked.” Heather Travis’s only concern and, thus, the only concern of her employer, Canada Beef, Inc, was to cause professional difficulties for me with my own employer. This is an example of corporate interference into academic freedom and nothing else. If you are an academic, a student, or a citizen who takes post-secondary education seriously–whether you agree with my position or not–this is chilling. I do not know how my employer, Carleton University, responded, but I hope that in the face in the of Heather Travis’s complaint that they reaffirmed the principles of academic freedom. Sadly, universities do not have a good track record in this regard over the past few years.

Heather Travis intentionally and deliberately attempted to silence a precariously employed academic for speaking uncomfortable truths about the industry she represents. Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations wanted me to get into trouble; Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations wanted me to suffer sanctions; Heather Travis, Director of Public Relations wanted to create the conditions under which her industry–responsible for the slaughter of 3.5 million cattle in 2011–can continue to nihilistically celebrate death as a life-giving force.