An opinion piece for Newsweek written by a man, Frank Mitloehner, who has accepted over $1 million in grants from the US animal agriculture industry (additional grants not shown here). He’s not a climate scientist, he’s a mouthpiece for animal agriculture in the United States. Of course, he’s going to tell us that not eating animals won’t help climate change. He’s financially motivated to do so.
He’s also quoted in an industry piece here, saying animals “aren’t our friends” and we shouldn’t feel bad for eating them because they’re not human. He poses “millennials” as gullible folks who see animals as pets, and the industry should feed on that idea to convince people that farm animals are actually “happy.”
To many, 20 cattle on a farm is “pushing it,” and “50 cattle is a factory farm.” A farm that has 200 chickens is “unacceptable” in their minds, Mitloehner said.
This same segment of the population also thinks of pets as part of the family.
“That’s the association most millennials have with animals,” Mitloehner said.
But, often, those in the agriculture industry encourage this mindset, rather than set the record straight, he said.
“We in animal agriculture feed into that notion by depicting our cows as happy cows, talking to each other and making fun of each other. We depict them in the background with red barns, standing on pasture,” he said.
“If you were to ask me what needs to change today, or tomorrow at latest, we need to change humanizing livestock. They are not humans. They are animals. Sooner or later we will eat them. Don’t tell the 20-year-olds they are our friends. They are not.“
Mitloehner is a mouthpiece for the animal ag industry, and any publication printing his words on climate change have a moral responsibility for the lies and misconceptions he is spreading.
Animal ag boards, lobbyists, spokespeople, and corporations don’t care about the state of the planet – their sole concern is that younger generations continue to buy into the false premise that we need to eat animals to survive. We don’t. But our survival does hinge on us ending animal agriculture, and it starts with not letting industry mouthpieces set the tone for discussions about climate change.
There’s obviously a LOT to unpack here and I hesitate to touch on vegan discourse because it’s so polarizing on this website, but I wonder if I can comment on journalism ethics specifically here. Especially since I worked at Newsweek for 10 months and wrote a lot about animals while there.
First: I want to thank the person who cared enough to find out the background and financial incentives behind this author. We need more people thinking skeptically about journalism and finding out where the words come from. The person who called this out provides legal counsel to animal rights organizations.
Second: I also want to say that it’s not that weird that someone receiving money from an industry would also research that industry (and is paid to research that industry), and then write researched opinion pieces about that industry. However, if the author had come to the conclusion that going vegan really will save the climate, would he have written the article? There isn’t any indication that the author just put this money in his pocket; presumably it was for work and research. STILL, there is absolutely reason to believe that the author has a conflict of interest here, and maybe it would be nice if there was room in the headline to explain.
Third: This was not written for Newsweek, it was written for The Conversation. The Conversation puts a creative commons license on its work, meaning it’s free to republish, as noted at the bottom of the Newsweek repub. It’s been republished elsewhere as well. That means Newsweek editors made a choice to publish it, but they couldn’t have edited it or changed much. It probably took someone at the Newsweek office less than an hour to read it, decide to publish it, and put it in the Content Management System.
Fourth: This EXACT THING happens from the other side as well. Check out Newsweek’s search for “meat climate change” and see how most of the headlines focus on meat being bad for the environment.
And they are likely mostly influenced in some way by someone with a motive. Here’s an article republished in Newsweek called “If We All Eat Meat, We’re Doomed” by
Laura Wellesley, who was at the time a research associate of Energy, Environment and Resources at Chatham House. Of course she was paid for her fellowship.
Even if the author isn’t sponsored by something, the science often is. I myself am not innocent of that. Here’s an article I did about cow intelligence (an editor said we had to “put something in [the headline] for the vegetarians,” which is why the title is “Cow Science: Cattle are Intelligent, Emotional and They Have Eureka Moments—Should We Be Killing Them?”) The article was based on a white paper (summarizing other research) that was paid for by an animal rights organization, The Someone Project.
I tried to be clear about the funding, and the scientific criticism of the paper for that reason, in the article, but if you only read the headline, you might not get the nuance.
Anyway, OP brings up good points, and I do wish that the truth was simpler and that there was no such thing as bias. I guess the one thing I’ll say for sure, as a professional journalist: try not to make big decisions based just on headlines.
Heck, the financial incentives of some journalists and media outlets is based on the fact that we get paid per click!