[Marxism] Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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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