– How Undercover Animal Rights Activists are Winning the Ag-Gag War (Liberty Blitzkrieg, May 26, 2013):
I previously covered these crazy “ag-gag” laws being passed in states with large meat production industries back in March in my piece: States Move to Criminalize Whistleblowing on Food Fraud and Animal Cruelty. Such laws represent a really disturbing macro trend in America where, rather than deal with inhumane, criminal and immoral practices, large corporations and government would just rather the public not know. The Obama Administration exemplified this practice perfectly in its recently exposed war on journalism.
The good news is that if care enough and stand our ground through non-violent resistance, we can win. We are already seeing examples of this in the battle against “ag-gag.”
From the Village Voice:
Cody Carlson had no way of preparing for this moment. He was a Manhattan kid, days removed from working as an analyst for a business-intelligence firm, where he scrutinized corporations and their executives.
Now he was standing in a bleak barn at New York’s largest dairy farm.
His first job, technically speaking, was to repair the mechanism that pulled manure from the barn.
His real job: covertly filming it all for Mercy for Animals.
His hidden camera caught employees kicking and shocking animals that wouldn’t bend to their will. Supervisor Phil Niles is heard recounting an abuser’s greatest hits: how he beat cows with wrenches, smashed their heads with two-by-fours, kicked them when they were too feeble to rise.
“Fucking kicking her, hitting her,” he chortles while recalling one incident. “Fucking jumping off the top of the goddamned gate and stomping on her head and shit.”
After five weeks of filming, MFA took the footage to ABC’s World News. Niles was subsequently charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. His penalty for 19 years of beating cows in every way imaginable: a $555 fine.
Carlson didn’t wait around for the fallout. He soon re-emerged at Country View Family Farms in Fannettsburg, Pennsylvania, where nearly 3,000 pigs live as pork-products-in-waiting for Hatfield Quality Meats. Once again, his camera caught the gruesomeness of the factory food chain.
Workers threw piglets by their ears and ripped out their testicles with bare hands sans anesthesia. Constantly impregnated sows were kept in cages just 2 feet wide, unable to turn around and allowed to walk just four days a year.
But like most states, Pennsylvania provides farmers with sweeping exemptions from cruelty statutes. These laws are simple: If it’s commonly practiced in agriculture, it can’t be construed as abuse.
That’s just mind-boggling.
Country View veterinarian Jessica Clark admits that the video showed violations of the farm’s own standards, but says those issues were corrected before MFA posted the film to the Internet. Because Pennsylvania grants farmers a wide berth in dealing with livestock, no charges were filed.
Since the Internet first granted activists a direct pipeline to the public, groups like HSUS, MFA, andPeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have waged guerrilla war via undercover video. Each time they’ve uploaded footage, Big Ag has struggled to explain away what Americans could see with their own eyes.
Last year, Big Ag decided to fight back. But not by playing a kinder, gentler game in search of better publicity. Instead, it sought to make criminals of the people exposing its underbelly.
Factory farms still produce more than 90 percent of the country’s food supply, but Big Ag could do little to stop the young, urban, educated, and moneyed from buying elsewhere. And then there were the videos constantly playing on YouTube, illuminating its sins.
So Iowa decided to outlaw the likes of Cody Carlson.
Last year, the state made it illegal to lie on a job application regarding association with an animal-rights group. It also banned the filming of farms without an owner’s consent.
I think this should be pretty simple. If unethical or illegal behavior is being exposed, one should essentially always have a right to let the public know.
The law was backed by Iowa’s largest ag forces, including Monsanto, DuPont, and Iowa Select, the state’s largest hog producer, which had been stung by an undercover Mercy video the year before.
The bill flew through the legislature in a matter of hours, effectively making exposing cruelty a greater crime than abuse itself. Those found guilty faced up to a year in jail, with felony charges for repeat offenses.
Mary Beth Sweetland heads HSUS’s investigative unit. She won’t speak to the nature of her operation or its people or methods for fear of tipping her hand. But Sweetland readily admits she no longer targets Iowa.
After Iowa passed its law, Missouri and Utah followed, joining Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota, which had passed similar statutes two decades earlier, when a more violent strain of activists threatened arson at animal testing labs. Other “ag-gag” bills have since appeared on dockets in 10 states, from California to Florida.
Take Tennessee state Representative Andy Holt, whose own farm produces pork, beef, and goat meat. Two years ago, HSUS caught Tennessee horse trainer Jackie McConnell slathering caustic chemicals on the ankles of his animals. The pain causes the horses to lift their legs higher during competitions. Footage also showed workers whipping and shocking horses and beating them on the head with sticks.
The Tennessee legislature’s response: Crack down on the people who would expose such a thing.
Yet Holt is trumped by Tim Sappington, a former maintenance contractor with Valley Meat in Roswell, New Mexico, which hopes to become the first U.S. slaughterhouse in years to produce horse meat for consumption in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Sappington uploaded a video to YouTube—since removed—showing him petting a horse. “To all you animal activists,” he said to the camera, “fuck you.” He then shot the horse point-blank in the head.
But as Pete notes, Gregg might still be torturing cows if not for MFA’s undercover work. There isn’t a single federal law governing the welfare of farm animals, he says. “There’s no investigative body in the country that does that, so it falls on civilians to do it.”
But if Big Ag has its way, those civilians will soon be criminals.
“It’s a huge embarrassment to have investigation after investigation where your employees are beating animals, kicking them and throwing them,” says Sweetland. “I think they’re sick of having to make excuses for themselves. One way to stop it is to make it illegal to do these undercover investigations. They refuse to fix the problem, which is this inherently cruel system.”
In February, Pirtle introduced a bill that would outlaw undercover videos in his state. But a strange thing happened between last year’s legislative successes and what was supposed to be 2013′s triumphant tidal wave.
The ag-gag movement began to self-destruct.
Measures attempting to criminalize activists’ activities in states from New Hampshire to Minnesota, Pennsylvania to Indiana, have either stalled or died.
While Big Ag has attacked, activists have gathered allies.
After Tennessee’s law passed the legislature, country singer Carrie Underwood tweeted: “Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the ag gag bill. If Gov. [Bill] Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who’s with me?” (Haslam vetoed the bill last week.)
This is great news for activists nationwide and indeed across the world. The nasty people in charge of many aspects of society need the darkness in order to continue to commit their crimes. If we work tirelessly to shine light on them, eventually the public will care and things can change for the better.
Full article here.