On August 9, Iowa resident Wheaten Mather was inside a cattle barn at the Iowa State Fair when an animal crying out in distress caught his attention. He observed a pig struck repeatedly in the face by a boy with a “show stick”—a rigid rod used on animals being shown at state fairs. When Mather noticed the pig, he started recording the incident. The boy was trying to force the pig to go into a trailer—which was elevated a distance off the ground—without a ramp. “The pig was not cooperating and his handling of the animal increased in severity and intensity,” Mather tells VegNews. When the squealing pig turned and faced Mather, he noticed the many deep lacerations on the animal’s face. “My heart sank,” Mather says.
Days later, Mather returned to the fairgrounds when he saw Iowa State Fair CEO Gary Slater being interviewed and asked him for a meeting. Mather was hoping to show Slater the video and ask how animal abuse could be prevented in the future. According to Mather, Slater became irritated with his questions and brushed them off. Mather contends he was persistent, not belligerent, but shortly after approaching Slater, he and his two friends were ushered from the fairgrounds by the police and handed ejection notices banning them from the fair for life. They have not been charged with a crime. “I think that Slater underestimated the power of social media in today’s day and age and the degree to which millions of people around the world care about the ethical treatment of animals and are disturbed by the notion of ‘this is how we’ve always done it,’” Mather says.
To Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, an animal being abused by a handler at a state fair is not surprising. “When humans treat other animals as commodities instead of as living feeling beings, we lose some of our empathy, which is a very important part of our humanity,” Baur tells VegNews. “Agricultural programs that normalize the exploitation and slaughter of other animals are harmful to both human and nonhuman animals.”
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