Across the country, we are seeing serious threats leveled at those who seek to expose animal abuse and food-safety concerns. The threats come in the form of anti-whistleblower legislation, dubbed “ag-gag” bills, introduced by big agribusiness under the guise of preventing animal cruelty. This disturbing trend reached California this year in the form of an ag-gag bill introduced by the California Cattlemen’s Association (yes, we’re serious).
The goal of this bill, A.B. 343, was to thwart investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses and other agricultural facilities by requiring that evidence of abuse be turned over to law enforcement within a certain time frame. Fortunately, the ASPCA and a diverse coalition of opponents worked together to educate the Legislature about the dangers posed by this legislation, ultimately convincing sponsor Assemblyman Jim Patterson that he could not get enough support for his bill, causing him to withdraw it from consideration.
This is a major victory—as the nation’s top agricultural state, California is home to enormous dairy, egg, beef and poultry industries. A 2008 investigation of a dairy cow slaughter plant in Chino prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history, identified fraud within the federal government’s school lunch program and resulted in criminal convictions for animal cruelty. A.B. 343 would have made it impossible to conduct the sort of thorough investigation in California that led to arrests and prosecutions in Chino. We applaud and thank our California Advocates and local humane groups for their support in fighting this bill!
Where does your state stand on anti-whistleblower legislation? Find out here, and be sure to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade so you can take action on current animal-related bills in your state!
Guest blog by Sherry Rout, ASPCA Government Relations State Legislative Director, Southern Region
Animal abuse is atrocious and perpetrators of abuse should be stopped. Furthermore, mistreatment of farm animals can be a serious threat to our food supply. Unfortunately, the Tennessee legislature doesn’t think so—and it would rather attack the people who report animal cruelty, food safety violations and other problems in agricultural settings.
Earlier this week, S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191— legislation that protects animal abusers and preserves the chronic mistreatment of livestock and horses—passed both houses of the Tennessee legislature.
On the Senate floor, when asked about the true intent of the legislation, the bill’s sponsor Senator Delores Gresham replied that the intent is to “stop the abuse.” In a House committee hearing, however, the House sponsor was more truthful: After listing the various industrial agriculture entities in the state that stand to benefit from this legislation, Rep. Holt stated: “The intention of this bill was to guard the economic value of these industries.” So, there we have it: The true intent of the bill, as stated by the House sponsor, is to protect industrial agriculture.
Undercover investigations are not meant to bankrupt industrial agriculture. Comprehensive investigations are intended to document chronic patterns of animal abuse that alert the public to these problems and, when the conditions are illegal, result in more convictions of abusers. This is the goal that Sen. Gresham says she is seeking. Greater transparency of conditions also protects consumers from animals that, if allowed into our food supply, could make Tennessee residents and those outside of our borders gravely ill. S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191 puts consumers at risk of becoming ill, criminalizes whistleblowers and allows animal abusers the opportunity to claim, “this was a one-time incident,” which will likely result in a slap on the wrist and will not prevent future animal suffering.
In a 2012 poll commissioned by the ASPCA and conducted by Lake Research Partners, it was revealed that 94% of Americans feel that it is important to have measures in place to ensure that food coming from farm animals is safe for people to eat. Additionally, 71% of adult Americans support undercover investigations to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 94%agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty.
The infringement on First Amendment rights posed by bills similar to the one passed by the Tennessee legislature flies in the face of one of the bedrock beliefs of our country. It is my hope that Governor Bill Haslam will see this disingenuous legislation for what it is—an unconstitutional measure meant to protect industrial agriculture at the cost of consumer health, protect criminals, and criminalize those who seek to expose them. We should be protecting our food supply and applauding whistleblowers, not punishing them.
Tana, a two-year-old filly, at the time of rescue (top) and after rehabilitation (bottom).
When several horse lovers in rural Carbon County, Montana, noticed more than a dozen starving, neglected horses on two local ranches, they did what we hope everyone who witnesses animal suffering will do: They spoke up.
Local law enforcement was eager to take on the case. But, like most law enforcement agencies, they didn’t have the facilities or resources necessary to build a successful case against the owners and nurse dozens of horses back to health. So, officers reached out to the county’s only animal welfare group, Beartooth Humane Alliance, for help.
Diane Zook, Beartooth’s tenacious executive director, jumped at the chance. The only problem: Beartooth works mainly with cats and dogs. In fact, it had never assisted with an equine cruelty situation before.
Zook was unfazed. She called on experts including ASPCA Equine Initiatives Manager Stacy Segal for help. “Stacy is my hero!” Zook tells us. “Without her guidance, I really did not know how to go about this process.”
Segal drew on her wealth of experience investigating equine cruelty to help Zook and local police create a strong case against the owners of the starving horses. The hard work paid off: In July, both cases were settled in court, and Beartooth was awarded custody of many of the horses. For Zook, her greatest challenge was just beginning: Beartooth would need to find permanent placement for these deserving horses.
Segal immediately facilitated an ASPCA grant for the removal and care of the horses at a short-term foster home. Zook and her volunteers began the work of medically and behaviorally rehabilitating the horses, many of whom were undersocialized.
Meanwhile, Segal and Zook called on other equine rescues to see if they could take in and rehome these resilient equines, and the horse welfare community responded with an outpouring of generosity: Seven rescues from all over the country took in Beartooth’s horses, until there were just eight left. Zook prepared to care for the horses through the winter. And then, on Thanksgiving, Zook got an amazing surprise: Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue in Jones, Oklahoma, had an opening for the last eight horses. By December, every horse had been placed.
Today, many of these horses are in loving homes, while others are in sanctuaries. One is now a trail horse, two were adopted out together to be well-loved companion animals, and still another is a working cow horse. This spring Hazel, a mare who went to Zuma’s Rescue Ranch in Littleton, Colorado, gave birth to a foal. Hazel and baby will remain on the ranch as a part of its humane education program.
Should equine cruelty occur in Carbon County again, Segal notes, the police and Beartooth are now ready to confidently take on the case. We’re thrilled to have helped.
“The best part is that these horses have found a better tomorrow,” Zook tells us.
Great news! Federal money for inspecting horse slaughter plants in the United States could soon be off the table, which would prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the U.S. President Obama’s newly released FY 2014 budget proposal includes a request for Congress to block spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to inspect U.S. horse slaughter plants.
In 2005, a similar spending prohibition was passed by landslide, bipartisan votes in the House and Senate, shutting down horse slaughter operations in the U.S. However, it was not renewed in 2011, which created the potential for horse slaughter plants to reopen—at the expense of American taxpayers. Horse slaughter proponents wasted no time scouting locations: at least six applications to slaughter horses for human consumption have already been filed with the USDA.
“We are grateful to the White House and USDA for their leadership in ensuring that American horses are not slaughtered on our own soil for foreign demand, especially in light of the daily news from Europe about the horrors of discovering horse meat mixed with frozen lasagna and toxic chemicals in horse flesh sold for food,” says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Wasting tax dollars on cruel and dangerous practices makes no sense, and we urge Congress to adopt this budget cut.”
Help us ensure that Capitol Hill hears the message to protect our horses, both here and abroad! The pro-slaughter industry will lobby intensely against this newest effort to prohibit federal dollars from being spent on horse slaughter, and our goal is to stop all American horses from experiencing the horrors of slaughter wherever it occurs, so we must continue to support the SAFE Act.
We are thrilled to share with you that on Monday, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act in the U.S. Senate.
This legislation, which is also being considered in the House, would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a child to a fight.
The Senate passed identical legislation during the last session of Congress, so we have high hopes that it will do so again—but we need your help! The bill didn’t become law last year because it stalled in the House, even with over half the House supporting it. We need to remind all Members of Congress that protecting animals from barbaric fighting ventures is important to their constituents.
Ask your two U.S. senators to support and cosponsor this important anti-fighting legislation! Please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center to send a quick email to your senators—as well as to your representative in the U.S. House—urging them to make this the year that we finally close a major loophole in our federal animal cruelty law.