That Sad Viral Story of a Goat Shows Ethical Void of the Meat IndustryRoundup
tags: agriculture, agricultural history, animal welfare, animal rights, Meat Industry, 4H
The story of a California girl and her goat named Cedar, which captured national and international headlines this past week, almost reads like it could have been penned by a Hollywood screenwriter. The tale of a child battling cruel adults for the life of a beloved animal companion has been the plot of everything from a classic children’s story (Charlotte’s Web), sci-fi film (2017’s Okja), and even an episode of The Simpsons (“Apocalypse Cow”).
The tale begins in the experience of millions of children who enroll annually in their local 4-H clubs — a more than century-old national youth organization run by the US Department of Agriculture that teaches personal development skills through agricultural and home economics projects. Last year, the 9-year-old daughter of Jessica Long, a resident of Shasta County in northern California, acquired a baby goat for a 4-H “livestock project.” The idea was that she would raise the goat until he was ready to be auctioned for slaughter at the local county fair, a common activity for 4-H members.
But raising Cedar led Long’s daughter to care deeply for him and, on the eve of the auction last June, she pleaded for the goat to be spared. The fair organizers refused. Then, Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, a farmer and unsuccessful 2022 California gubernatorial candidate, submitted a winning bid of $902 for Cedar’s meat, of which $63.14 was to go to the fair. Later that night, in a last-ditch effort to save Cedar the goat from slaughter, Long and her daughter took him from the fair.
But that’s when the plot took a dark turn no Hollywood studio would greenlight. The Shasta District Fair claimed Long had stolen Cedar, demanded she surrender the goat for butchering, and threatened to involve the police if she did not. Long refused. That’s when the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office got involved. Armed with a search warrant, officers drove more than 500 miles across northern California, seized Cedar from the Sonoma County property where he had been taken, and returned him to Shasta County, where he was slaughtered. Long is now suing county officials for violating her daughter’s civil rights.
Cedar’s case might seem like an isolated if viral news story. The lawsuit was filed last August to limited media attention, but in the wake of a story first published in the Sacramento Bee on March 29 and subsequent viral Twitter posts, it has been covered everywhere from the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post and CNN, among others. But the whole affair reflects a bigger point about how programs like 4-H, the largest youth organization in the country, train generations of children to act against their better moral judgments. Implicit in 4-H’s livestock projects is the view that farm animals are fungible commodities with one correct use — food — a belief that also undergirds the politics of meat in America. Put simply, it takes quite a bit of hard work to convince people to treat animals as nothing but meat, but hundreds of billions of dollars a year depend on it.
The police who seized Cedar on behalf of the fair association were working in a political context shaped by agricultural interests. The action reflects a common pattern of law enforcement overreach in service of the meat industry that’s also evident in, for example, the FBI’s raids on farm sanctuaries in pursuit of animals rescued by activists from factory farms.
In this case, Long’s lawsuit argues, she was accused of a theft she couldn’t possibly have committed since her daughter was still the legal owner of the animal when she removed him from the fair and, as a minor, she had the right under California law to disaffirm any contract she’d made to sell him. The suit also claims that the police committed a number of errors in their seizure of Cedar, including the use of a criminal search warrant in a case she argues was civil, and then not following the California requirement to hold onto evidence — which, in this case, would have meant keeping Cedar alive. The defendants named in the case — including the county, three Shasta police officers, the Shasta District Fair and Event Center, the fair’s CEO, and another person affiliated with the fair — denied most of the allegations in a formal response to the suit.