John Oliver: Exposing The Meat Industry

(FACTORY FARMING/OP-ED) There aren’t many notable figures who attack America’s systems and bring light to important issues that many turn a blind eye to. John Oliver is one of few who doesn’t soften the blow and tells us exactly how harmful many of our actions as humans are to ourselves and to the world.

Already, his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, has publicized multiple problems–from net neutrality, income inequality, and child labor to the obsoleteness of Daylight Savings Time in this modern day and age. It’s no surprise, then, that Oliver has brought attention to the abuse and inequality within the practices of chicken farming.

john oliver last week tonight show chickens segment

Watch the video clip, here:

Back in May in one episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver started out his segment commenting on how much Americans love their chicken. It’s a staple in the typical American diet–fried, baked, broiled, you name it. But what lies behind the “delicious” food many have grown up loving is an astounding amount of mistreatment, both with the animals themselves and with the farmers who were contracted to raise them.

Photo Credit: Pandith News
Tyson Farms, Inc. currently works with over 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farmers. Photo Credit: Pandith News

Hired under major chicken producing companies (Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue), these farmers are given very strict and often abusive rules on how to keep and care for the animals. If these rules were to be broken, they would lose the already small amount of money they make to other chicken farmers.

There are very few chickens raised for food that are kept in even semi-appropriate living conditions that affect the health of both the chickens and the consumers who eat them. Far too many are often kept in terrible conditions: little space to move in overcrowded coops around and no natural lighting to keep them energetic (as chicken producers want them lazy and fat so there’s more meat to sell). Even if chicken farmers were to build barns and nesting areas with windows and more space, it would cost them money from their own pockets and the companies would force them to remodel anyway.

It’s an appalling system for both the farmers and the chickens. Although attempts have been made to change the laws that give the producers all the power and the farmers very little, nothing has been done.

Since many chickens cannot support their own weight, they die of dehydration, unable to get to water. Photo credit:
Since many chickens on factory farms cannot support their own weight, they die of dehydration, unable to get to water. Photo credit:

New laws to change these conditions have been voted down when presented–a fact that has visibly angered and shocked Oliver enough to call on his viewers to take action and call on their representatives to vote “yes” on the laws that would give farmers at least an equal legal footing with the overly controlling and powerful producers.

As a result, farmers who have more control over their own farms wouldn’t have to compete with each other and would be able to give their chickens a better quality of life.

Of course, a man with opinions like Oliver has thoughts on more animals than just chickens. The plight of the polar bears became the topic of an Earth Day segment, where he used humor (in the form of a man in a mascot suit) to make an important point.

His main focus was on how chemicals in the environment that have caused pollution have weakened the male polar bears’ ability to breed, but the deeper subtext of his story was clear: instead of the media preparing simple arts and crafts projects to celebrate Earth Day as seen on many morning news shows, perhaps the time could be used to report on the realities of our changing environment, the damage we’ve done to it, and how we can fix it. Oliver just happened to use polar bear genitalia to make this point.

It goes without saying that one of the main causes and effects of these problems comes down to global warming and climate change. Because of our inherent need to use fossil fuels and create abhorrent environmental conditions, the animals suffer as well. With the rise of pollution and climate change, polar bears are unable to eat and mate, which will inevitably contribute to their decline.

Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them. That’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. Photo Credit: PETA
Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them. That’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. Photo Credit: PETA

Factory farms made to rapidly churn out food animals are also detrimental to the environment. Not only do they emit greenhouse gases like methane, which Direct Energy reports is one of the main causes of global warming, but they affect our water quality and forests as well.

PETA has said that simply eating less meat, in addition to using renewable energy like solar and limiting our usage of fossil fuel-guzzling transportation methods would altogether greatly benefit animal and human well-being. However, despite the existence of these simple solutions, they are largely ignored in order for humans to live comfortably in ignorance.

John Oliver is not the first person to notice just how terrible the situation with the food meat industry has become. And he’s not the first person to promote change in how food animals are treated, how food producers are regulated, and how animals in general are viewed. But he does have a very public and significant voice that could potentially promote change in America’s corrupt systems.

Maria Ramos, exclusive to Global Animal

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.