Concentrated Hog Feeding Operations and the Animal Rights Movement: A Website Diagnostic Frame Analysis

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Master of Arts (MA)




The volume of online texts designating hog concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as problematic serves to illustrate an emerging social problem. The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate how five online animal advocate organizations present hog CAFOs as problematic, and warranting intervention. The units of study include: The Animal Welfare Institute, Farm Sanctuary, Humane Farming Association, Humane Society of the United States, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Together, they represent an integral part of the animal rights movement, a descriptive label that does not imply consensus regarding animal “rights.”

In the procedures used to explore answers to the research question, website texts specific to hog CAFOs were saved and coded according to Hunt, Benford, and Snow’s diagnostic framing task principles (1994). The diagnostic framing task provided the means of answering the research question. Aspects of the diagnostic framing task include identifying the problematic condition, defining how the condition warrants intervention, and assigning culpability.

The results of this study indicated the following categories of claims: 1) the hogs’ living conditions were unacceptable, 2) hog CAFOs contributed to rural economic stress, 3) hog CAFOs were implicated in human health issues, and 4) hog CAFOs contributed to environmental degradation. Differences were noted among organizations regarding problematic claims and designation of culpability. This assessment was based on exclusion, inclusion, and emphasis of claims. Some claims were similar to those of other organizations outside the animal rights movement, such as the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, an agricultural organization.

An intriguing pattern was discovered after evaluating the codes and related texts. Although no single definition explains animal rights and welfare, the texts per organization indicated a perceptual demarcation between “rights” and “welfare.” Each concept was differentiated according to the level of consideration given to the animals. For example, Farm Sanctuary texts repeatedly emphasized the hogs" physical and psychological needs, creating a foundational premise for animal “rights.” The Humane Society of the United States emphasized human morality issues such as “cruer treatment of hogs, creating a foundational premise for animal “welfare.” Each organization’s original premise may influence characteristics of claims, and help to clarify the position held regarding the status of food animals. It is unknown whether organizational differences will affect the outcome of the animal rights movement.

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