Ethical Conflict Doesn’t Stop Al Jazeera from Attacking Chicken Industry

Anti-factory farming rhetoric is all the rage on the left, so when the USDA announced changes to its inspection for the first time since 1957, liberal outrage was sure to follow.

Al Jazeera America devoted most of an episode of “The Stream” to criticism of the changes on Aug. 20. And the left-wing slant of that episode about USDA changes to poultry inspections was predictable, given the personal views of host Lisa Fletcher.

Fletcher is a “friend to all animals” and “vegan food maniac” according to Muck Rack. So she isn’t unbiased when it comes to raising and killing chickens for food. But the episode only hinted at her veganism when the co-host said stories like this one make him think “maybe Lisa Fletcher’s right, I need to go vegetarian. I can’t do vegan, but maybe I need to go vegetarian.”

There was also no disclosure in the story of Fletcher’s personal connection to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). She’s engaged (or married by now) to Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society. Fletcher and Pacelle became a new D.C. “power couple,” according to The Washington Post which reported their 2011 engagement and said “No date set yet, but they plan to get married later this year.”

By Fletcher’s own admission she’s “very heavily involved on the editorial side” at “The Stream.”

“The production team and I determine what our topics are going to be, how we’re going to present the show, who we’re going to have as guests, how we’re going to deliver the content and how we want it to appear in terms of elements that we want in the show. We strive to direct the discussion in a way that engages our viewers and really breaks ground,” she elaborated on the Al Jazeera America website.

Fletcher’s views and connections were obvious in the broadcast regarding the changing USDA regulations about poultry production. Guests were stacked four against, one in favor of the new regulations and Fletcher and co-host Wajahat Ali’s own leanings.

At the start of the broadcast Ali said, “This is one of those terrifying shows which is both good and bad because -- because I do the research and then I think maybe Lisa Fletcher’s right, I need to go vegetarian. I can’t do vegan, but maybe I need to go vegetarian.”

Opponents of the USDA regulations included Paul Shapiro, VP of Farm Animal Protection of the Humane Society -- the same organization that Pacelle runs as CEO. This ethical conflict was not mentioned in the show. A former inspector and two documentary filmmakers also attacked the U.S. poultry industry along with a host of people on Twitter whose comments were read aloud by Ali.
 


The USDA said in a fact sheet about the changes that the modernization was necessary because of what has been learned about finding and controlling disease.

"In 1957, our inspection system was designed so that inspectors watched chickens or turkeys to spot visible defects on the carcasses as they came down the inspection line. In 2014, we now understand that since pathogens are microscopic, even our very best inspectors cannot visually identify foodborne illness-causing pathogens on a piece of chicken, regardless of how much time they have to inspect it,” the USDA said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new system “shifts much of the onus for visually inspecting and sorting carcasses and bird parts from the government to plant employees” and reduce the number of USDA inspectors for “evisceration lines.” According to the USDA that would allow inspectors to focus more on ensuring company employees are preventing contamination by dangerous bacteria.

The end of “The Stream” broadcast was interrupted by coverage of President Barack Obama’s remarks concerning the beheading of journalist James Foley by ISIS.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.