[Marxism] Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 7 07:29:22 MDT 2013


NY Times April 6, 2013
Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.

On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee 
walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming 
punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one 
of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged 
alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the 
beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights 
activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee 
charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, 
with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming 
charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg 
supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its 
biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its 
decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They 
proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly 
videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing 
ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require 
such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which 
activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of 
large factory farms.

Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative 
Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state 
representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model 
bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have 
included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter 
identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism 
Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame 
the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist 
registry.”

Officials from the group did not respond to a request for comment.

Animal rights activists say they have not seen legislation that would 
require them to register as terrorists, but they say other measures — 
including laws passed last year in Iowa, Utah and Missouri — make it 
nearly impossible to produce similar undercover exposés. Some groups say 
that they have curtailed activism in those states.

“It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct 
undercover investigations,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for 
Mercy for Animals, which has shot many videos, including the egg-farm 
investigation in 2011. (McDonald’s said that video showed “disturbing 
and completely unacceptable” behavior, but that none of the online clips 
were from the Iowa farm that supplied its eggs. Ms. Bala, though, said 
that some video showing bird carcasses in cages did come from that 
facility.)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies for the agricultural 
and meat industries, criticized the mistreatment seen on some videos. 
But the group cautions that some methods represent best practices 
endorsed by animal-care experts.

The videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, said 
Kelli Ludlum, the group’s director of Congressional relations, but they 
can be like seeing open-heart surgery for the first time.

“They could be performing a perfect procedure, but you would consider it 
abhorrent that they were cutting a person open,” she said.

In coming weeks, Indiana and Tennessee are expected to vote on similar 
measures, while states from California to Pennsylvania continue to 
debate them.

Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have 
died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the 
legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, 
including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”

In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of 
the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor 
groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated 
the First Amendment.

After numerous constitutional objections, the bill was redrafted and 
will be unveiled Monday, said Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state 
representative and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The new bill would require job applicants to disclose material 
information or face criminal penalties, a provision that opponents say 
would prevent undercover operatives from obtaining employment. And 
employees who do something beyond the scope of their jobs could be 
charged with criminal trespass.

An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave 
it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Mr. 
Steuerwald said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all 
employers, he added.

Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the 
A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish 
whistle-blowers.

Nationally, animal rights advocates fear that they will lose a valuable 
tool that fills the void of what they say is weak or nonexistent regulation.

Livestock companies say that their businesses have suffered financially 
from unfair videos that are less about protecting animals than 
persuading consumers to stop eating meat.

Don Lehe, a Republican state representative from a rural district in 
Indiana, said online videos can cast farmers in a false light and give 
them little opportunity to correct the record.

“That property owner is essentially guilty before they had the chance to 
address the issue,” Mr. Lehe said.

As for whistle-blowers, advocates for the meat industry say that they 
are protected from prosecution by provisions in some bills that give 
them 24 to 48 hours to turn over videos to legal authorities.

“If an abuse has occurred and they have evidence of it, why are they 
holding on to it?” said Dale Moore, executive director of public policy 
for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But animal rights groups say investigations take months to complete.

Undercover workers cannot document a pattern of abuse, gather enough 
evidence to force a government investigation and determine whether 
managers condone the abuse within one to two days, said Matt Dominguez, 
who works on farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United 
States.

“Instead of working to prevent future abuses, the factory farms want to 
silence them,” he said. “What they really want is for the whistle to be 
blown on the whistle-blower.”

The Humane Society was responsible for a number of undercover 
investigations, including the videos of the Wyoming pig farm and the 
Tennessee walking horses.

Video shot in 2011 showed workers dripping caustic chemicals onto the 
horses’ ankles and clasping metal chains onto the injured tissue. This 
illegal and excruciating technique, known as “soring,” forces the horse 
to thrust its front legs forward after every painful step to exaggerate 
the distinctive high-stepping gait favored by breeders. The video also 
showed a worker hitting a horse in the head with a large piece of wood.

The Humane Society first voluntarily turned over the video to law 
enforcement. By the time the video was publicly disclosed, federal 
prosecutors had filed charges. A week later, they announced guilty pleas 
from the horse trainer and other workers.

Prosecutors later credited the Humane Society with prompting the federal 
investigation and establishing “evidence instrumental to the case.”

That aid to prosecutors shows the importance of lengthy undercover 
investigations that would be prevented by laws requiring video to be 
turned over within one or two days, Mr. Dominguez said.

“At the first sign of animal cruelty, we’d have to pull our investigator 
out, and we wouldn’t be able to build a case that leads to charges.”




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