Trisha Marczak Legislation aimed at cracking down on the animal rights industry is all the rage in state legislatures around the nation, with some bills deeming those who secretly film acts of animal abuse at factory farms “terrorists.” While touting the bill as one that seeks to protect animals living in factory farms, animal rights […]
Legislation aimed at cracking down on the animal rights industry is all the rage in state legislatures around the nation, with some bills deeming those who secretly film acts of animal abuse at factory farms “terrorists.”
While touting the bill as one that seeks to protect animals living in factory farms, animal rights groups say it does just the opposite.
The most recent version of the bill requires all footage from undercover investigations be handed over to law enforcement within 24 hours. For organizations that conduct ongoing investigations, the confiscation of their property hinders their ability to carry out successful campaigns that expose animal brutality.
Other versions of the bill also include provisions that would make it illegal for those working on behalf of media or animal rights groups to not disclose that information when applying for positions at commercial animal-related businesses.
Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals, one of the nation’s leading human rights organizations, said in an interview with Mint Press News that the bill would be devastating to its investigations.
“It sounds good on the surface, but it prevents long-term investigation,” he said.
Mercy for Animals investigators were responsible for the footage at Sparboe Eggs, which captured images of infestation and abuse. It led to widespread media coverage and resulted in McDonald’s severing ties with the company.
While the industry and supporters of the bill claim it would allow law enforcement to act quickly, Rice said it would not allow his and other organizations to compile the evidence necessary to result in animal cruelty charges. It would also limit the organization’s efforts to show systematic abuse at factory farms, giving companies the opportunity to brush off the actions of a few rogue employees.
Rice considers the bill a blatant move by the industry to silence animal rights activists who expose to American consumers the behind-the-scenes reality of the factory farming industry.
“They thrive on the fact that most Americans aren’t able to see where their food comes from,” he said.
States grab hold of industry-sponsored bill
The model legislation, titled the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” being picked up and sponsored in more than a dozen states was drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an advocacy organization that works on behalf of corporate interests, including those involved in the factory farming and meat processing industry.
Similar legislation has already been enacted in Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and Utah. Attempts to pass the bill in more than eight other states have fallen short of support.
The model bill is still alive in North Carolina, Indiana and Tennessee.
In Indiana, the bill has already been passed by the Senate. It now awaits approval from the House. In California, Republican Rep. Jim Patterson, who initially sponsored the bill, withdrew the legislation after opposition from human rights organizations, including Mercy for Animals, its supporters and state media outlets.
All eyes are now on Tennessee after both the House and Senate passed the bill, prompting human rights organizations to spread the word and urge residents to contact Governor Bill Haslam to use his veto pen.
National awareness campaigns throughout the country are highlighting the essential role undercover investigations play in arrests and convictions of guilty parties.
News organizations are also questioning the legislation. In 2011, ABC News conducted an investigation after animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, shot secret footage of the living conditions of animals at Iowa’s Sparboe Farms, which revealed dead rats lying on the ground, dead birds and widespread insect infestations. The investigation led McDonald’s, one of its biggest customers, to cut ties with the company.
Wyoming investigation followed by legislation
Just this past December, an undercover investigation in Wyoming by the U.S. Humane Society led to the arrests of nine workers at Wyoming Premium Farms, a Tyson Foods supplier.
An undercover employee with the Humane Society captured shocking footage of blatant abuse and mistreatment of its pigs. Aside from abuse, which included kicking, hitting and prodding of pigs, the group raised issues of animal handling, which directly ties in with health concerns. Neglect of pigs nursing open wounds and broken limbs were captured on film, violating health code regulations.
With Americans consuming more than 50 billion pounds of meat each year, the health implications of unsanitary factory farm conditions are enormous.
The video also showed the incident was more than the cause of a few “bad apples.” Two of the nine charged with animal cruelty were managers at Wyoming Premium Farms. Assistant Manager Shawn Colson was charged with seven counts of animal cruelty.
Months after the investigation, a bill was introduced in Wyoming that would label organizations like the Humane Society as terrorists if they were conduct a similar investigation in the future all to protect the interests of these farms.
This was a move in the opposite direction the Humane Society had hoped the industry would go following the arrests at Premium Farms. Rather than making efforts to improve conditions, the industry instead lobbied lawmakers to introduce legislation that would ensure they wouldn’t be caught for doing so.
“Instead of working to prevent these abuses from occurring, the agribusiness industry has been working to prevent people from finding out about such problems by supporting anti-whistleblower bills,” the Human Society states in a press release.
The arrests made in the Wyoming Premium Farms case were done so through the very action the ALEC bill seeks to make illegal and an act of terrorism. Without the ability to get inside, activists say there’s no way to provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to prosecute the guilty parties.
The bill in Wyoming died, yet that’s just one victory down. With bills still active in other states, human rights organizations are launching nationwide education campaigns to get the word out and encourage animal lovers to voice their opposition of the bill to lawmakers.
In North Carolina, Mercy for Animals recently released footage from an undercover investigation at Butterball factory farm, where the organization captured footage of workers kicking, stomping on and beating animals. The footage led to a police raid at the farm — five workers were charged with animal cruelty.
On the same day the fifth person charged in that case pleaded guilty, North Carolina senators Brent Jackson, Jim David and Wesley Meredith introduced their version of the “ag gag” bill.
Mercy for Animals has been vocal in its opposition to the bill in North Carolina and in states throughout the nation. In a recent post, Nathan Runkle, the organization’s director asks the question at the heart of the back-and-forth debate:
“These desperate measures should make people wonder: What is the factory farming industry trying to hide?”