Category Archives: Current Events

The Language of Reporting on Factory Farms

In the last few weeks, the chicken and turkey farms in the American midwest have been infected with a highly dangerous strain of bird flu. This means that millions of chickens were killed, leaving their meat inedible. This story is an issue for public health, but it also points out the dangers of keeping millions of animals together in such close quarters.

There have been many articles about the outbreak from multiple news sources, but most of them have a couple things in common which speak to the way these animals are perceived.

Firstly, when referring to the mass slaughter of millions of birds, the most common wordings are that birds “were lost” or “had to be destroyed”. Some articles use the word “euthanized”, but even that is rare. This language takes away the blame and agency from the farms themselves, and presents the event as an inevitability, an uncontrollable natural disaster. The actions taken are presented as the natural course of action, or as motivated by mercy (euthanization is for the benefit of the animal).

Perhaps less subtle, but just as telling, is the description of the aftermath. Articles describe the financial loss, the measures taken to quarantine and disinfect the facilities, and reassurances that public health is not going to be affected. There is no mention of the unnecessary loss of life that came about because of the poor practices of the industry. The fact that literally millions of animals were killed is not part of the story.

When these stories are presented this way, the factory farm system is perpetuated. This should have sparked discussions about the problems with how these animals are kept, and all the negative consequences of factory farming practices. Most do not mention that wild relatives of the farm chicken do not get this disease. Instead, it’s a minor news story about some lost profits.

Read some of the articles I’m talking about here:

CNBC’s coverage

CBS San Francisco’s coverage

Minneapolis Star Tribune’s coverage