The tale of five cows that escaped from a packing plant, while not exactly echoing A Christmas Story, nevertheless has a deeper meaning for producers — albeit a different one for consumers.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the five cows that spent several days roaming around Pocatello, Idaho. It’s a local story that generated national buzz, and according to the media, is a story with moral implications.

Here’s how local media covered the final chapter in the saga:

“Two cows that have been running loose all week have been located and brought back to the meat processing business from where they fled.”

That’s the lead in the Idaho State Journal newspaper last Sunday reporting on the employees of Anderson Custom Pack, who located and brought the last two cows back to the plant. Did you notice that according to the reporter, the cows “fled” the plant? They didn’t “wander away” (as cows are wont to do) when an open gate beckons. Instead, they were described like a couple of convicts on a chain gang who overpower the prison guards and take off on the run.

But let’s back up a bit. This story actually began on Friday Dec. 12, when the first cow escaped, apparently by clambering over a six-foot fence at the plant. The cow spent most of the day “wandering the town of Pocatello,” according to news reports. Then, the cow was later shot and killed by local police.

The first incident led to national news coverage of the “fleeing” cow, and according to the business co-owner Jesse Anderson, was directly responsible for a second breakout two days later when someone intentionally opened a gate through which four more cows wandered away.

By now this has become a high-profile story, covered even by international news outlets, which didn’t fare any better than their American colleagues as far as objectivity is concerned. Consider the reporting of Great Britain’s The Guardian newspaper:

“Widespread media coverage of that escape led to a second breakout on Sunday when, farmers claim, someone intentionally released more bovines. Then, four cows broke loose from the plant after ranchers claimed a gate was intentionally left open.”

Did they mention that the “farmers” claimed that’s what happened?

Here’s what’s not in dispute. After the initial escape, Anderson started receiving hate emails from animal rights groups, and shortly afterwards, somebody opened a gate at the plant that allowed the other four cows to wander away. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out how (or why) that happened.

By Wednesday morning Dec. 17, co-owner Jesse Anderson had shot one of the cows that had gone missing, while another one was recaptured. The remaining ones, as mentioned, were re-captured and brought back to the plant.

The real miracle

Can you guess what came next? In what is absolutely no surprise, animal activists jumped on the story as a way to push their “save the animals” agenda.

Susie Coston, national shelter director for Farm Sanctuary, said it would be “a Christmas miracle” if the cows were turned over to her organization.

“It would be great to turn this into something positive,” Coston told Idaho State Journal. “This is a chance to show compassion,” adding that Pocatello could become the city that “decided to save the bovines rather than slaughter them.”

No mention of the allegations that some activist deliberately opened the gate at the plant to allow the bovines in question to escape in the first place, of course. According to moralists such as Coston, that’s not a crime, it’s perfectly acceptable behavior to deprive a business owner of the cows from which he earns a living, pays his employees and contributes to the local economy.

That calculation doesn’t compute for activists who “earn” their living thanks to donations made — in large part — by well-heeled celebrities who have the luxury of embracing the vegetarian lifestyle.

Farm Sanctuary, as a matter of fact, loves to crow about how they rake in contributions from people such as Martha Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres. That’s why they can spend their time dreaming up stunts to capitalize on the sentimentality we all share when it comes to animals, while remaining divorced from the issues that impact a rural area like Pocatello, Idaho.

Need proof? Here’s what Coston told the local newspaper:

She said she’s going to “work with Anderson Custom Pack” to try to save the cows before Christmas.” [Coston] feels [that] “sparing the animals would also put the meat processing business in a very positive light.”

Here’s what would constitute a real holiday miracle: If activists actually recognized that eating meat has been humanity’s primary sustenance since well before the very first Christmas.

Not to mention that the ox and lamb present at the Nativity weren’t living out their lives at some celebrity-funded sanctuary.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.