'Death on a Factory Farm'

The producers of "Dealing Dogs" are back at it, this time creating cause for guilt by anyone who occasionally enjoys a BLT. Relying heavily on undercover video capturing graphic footage of hogs being slaughtered, "Death on a Factory Farm" is a sobering bit of advocacy journalism, though in a sense it picks off an easy target -- exposing cruel treatment and horrible conditions for animals bred for butchering, without addressing the larger question of societal complicity in our demand for food at reasonable costs.

The producers of “Dealing Dogs” are back at it, this time creating cause for guilt by anyone who occasionally enjoys a BLT. Relying heavily on undercover video capturing graphic footage of hogs being slaughtered, “Death on a Factory Farm” is a sobering bit of advocacy journalism, though in a sense it picks off an easy target — exposing cruel treatment and horrible conditions for animals bred for butchering, without addressing the larger question of societal complicity in our demand for food at reasonable costs.

Cleverly, producers Tom Simon and Sarah Teale divide their long-in-the-works project into two compelling halves. In the first, an undercover operative named “Pete” (also featured in “Dealing Dogs”) takes a job at an Ohio farm specifically to document abuses there. Several of the techniques witnessed are unsavory — including such confined quarters as to trigger cannibalism by penned-up animals, and killing piglets by bashing their heads — but the key sequence involves hanging hogs from a forklift, choking and spasming for several minutes before they finally die.

Pete, who’s working for the Humane Farming Assn., acknowledges in interviews that some might question his dedication to animal rights, stressing that while he recognizes terrible things are also happening to people, this is the fight he has chosen.

The second part deals with the trial triggered by Pete’s footage, with Wayne County prosecutors bringing charges against the hog farm’s owner and his son for their inhumane practices. Inevitably, there’s an element of local hostility toward the HFA’s connection with the case, resenting city slickers for invading Ohio and interfering with their way of life. (One amusing exchange shows Pete preparing for his testimony, telling attorneys that everything he knows about court proceedings comes from “Law & Order.”)

The main drawback with this sort of exercise — and indeed, the animal rights movement — boils down to a matter of degree and perspective. Wanting such operations to be as compassionate as possible is certainly laudable. But unless everyone turns Vegan overnight, animals are going to be killed for our consumption, so the question boils down to how.

Simon and Teale’s documentary gets its obvious point across: If you’re going to reap the system’s benefits, at least have the guts to look at the distasteful process responsible for what you’re swallowing. Yet while few will possess much of an appetite as they watch “Death on a Factory Farm,” one suspects it’s a bitter pill without much of an aftertaste.

Death on a Factory Farm

HBO, Mon. March 16, 10 p.m.

Production

Produced by Working Dog/Teale-Edwards Prods. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins; supervising producer, John Hoffman; producers, Tom Simon, Sarah Teale.

Crew

Camera, Simon; editor, Geof Bartz cq; music, Jamie Lawrence. RUNNING TIME: 88 MIN.
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