The deciding factor of the consumer market is competition. This is why it’s no surprise when companies use labels on their products that, while not accurately describing the product’s quality or manufacturing process, are appealing to the buyer. Many labels which are misused for the sake of profit are also labels which will justify spending more than the average market price for that item.

Ethical consumers are willing to pay more for products that promise that the welfare of others has not been sacrificed in any way to create the item, understanding that what we buy has a huge impact on other humans, animals, and the planet itself. Companies pick up on this sympathy often, but less often are they to pick up on the actual principles of the idea at hand. Slapping “happy,” “humane,” and “green” labels on a product without actually changing any conduct in their production is a quick way to make more money with less hassle.

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Cosmetics Companies’ “Not Tested on Animals”

The sorts of falsehoods that cosmetics companies create in order to placate consumers comes in many forms: some companies, such as Avon, Estee Lauder, and Mary Kay, have outright lied and claimed that their products were “cruelty-free” when they continued to use animal testing. Other companies simply do not inform consumers in any form of whether or not their product uses animal testing.

Companies that avoid animal testing and animal ingredients typically list this information on their website in a frequently asked questions list, but companies that don’t aren’t planning to openly share this information. While it may not be enough simply to look for a “cruelty-free” label on your cosmetics, organizations such as the Leaping Bunny keep a good list of verified animal-friendly companies that you should look out for instead. For more information on how to read “cruelty-free” labels, check out this post by OGP’s Alexis Croswell for an in-depth analysis.

The Dairy Industry’s “Smiling Cows”

Milk cartons, cheese wedges, and yogurt cups alike regularly feature depictions of smiling, laughing, healthy, and happy cows being lovingly embraced by farmers and roaming wide green pastures. It may be a beautiful image of nature, but it’s completely fictitious.

Investigations into dairy farms have shown “workers viciously kicking, beating and whipping cows in the face and body, sick and injured cows suffering from open wounds and infections, and workers dragging cows by their fragile legs and necks using chains attached to a tractor.”

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Similar investigations “documented workers bludgeoning calves with pickaxes and hammers, burning out their horns without painkillers, standing on their necks, pulling them by their ears, and leaving them to suffer without veterinary care,” as reported by Mercy for Animals.

When asked about these acts of cruelty, companies might respond that the investigations are fabricated, that these actions aren’t actually cruel, or that changes have been made since the investigation and that the farmers continue to have “the animals’ best interests” in mind.

Other myths are spread to keep consumers from questioning what could be wrong about their dairy, such as the idea that cows “need to be milked.” Surprisingly, I have met quite a few people who understand that humans have to give birth before they are lactating, but don’t understand that dairy cows are forcibly impregnated for the same results. Cows magically producing milk their whole lives is a ridiculous myth that’s often bought without second thought. Other cruelties that come as byproducts of the dairy industry go wholly unreported by their companies.

The Egg Industry’s “Happy Hens”

Knowing that male chicks are ground alive because they are of no use to the hatchery business is enough to persuade someone to lay off eggs for a while, but what about eggs that promise “free range” or “cage free?”

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Well, as Cracked.com states, “The reality is there are absolutely no regulations whatsoever for the use of the term ‘free range’ on anything other than chickens raised for their meat. Your Snickers bar could be free range for all the government cares.”

Free range is an ambiguous term already, simply suggesting that regardless of what free range actually entails, it has the word “free” in it, so it must be good. But since no regulations decide who gets to use the term “free range” on their products and who doesn’t, it’s surprising that every egg on the market doesn’t key in on this faux ethical concern for quick cash.

Claims about the cage-free nature of hens have similarly lax requirements — technically speaking, a building stuffed with so many hens that not a single one can move an inch is cage-free. An outdoor holding pen at a farm where hens have their beaks removed and their wings clipped is cage free. Cruelty doesn’t stop at cages, and what counts as a “cage” can mean different things to different companies.

Playing up the ambiguity of terms for the sake of catching the conscious consumer’s eye isn’t just limited to the egg industry.

Green Monsters: How many ethical food terms can you think of which can mean different things to different people? What do you think the limits of “humane” are, and do you believe farmers and CEOs who benefit from the slaughter or confinement of these animals would agree with you?

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

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