Suppose I told you that, behind the closed doors of a nearby animal farm, something terrible was going on with the animals: vicious abuse and neglect, atrocious conditions, disease and agonizing death.
You would probably want to expose it, protect the animals and punish the offenders. So would I. But instead of seeing more laws dedicated to curbing such abuse, we’re seeing a rash of state laws designed to keep it secret.
Some of these whistleblower suppression laws—coined “ag-gag” by food writer Mark Bittman—aggressively criminalize first-hand documenting and/or reporting of the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, while doing nothing to contain the abuse. Other approaches are designed to seem animal-friendly, but actually hinder investigators and whistleblowers by requiring reporting of witnessed abuse within such a short and arbitrary period of time that adequate documentation of a pattern of abuse is impossible.
Whatever their approach, these laws audaciously and outrageously hide reckless cruelty and incredible suffering.
The first ag-gag bill of 2014 has already been introduced—right on the heels of a previous one’s defeat—and will be heard in the Corrections and Criminal Law committee on Tuesday at the Indiana State House. If passed, S.B. 101 could make felons out of whistleblowers exposing unethical or illegal activities on industrial farms. A coalition [PDF] of civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, animal welfare, legal, workers’ rights, journalism and First Amendment organizations is calling on the Indiana legislature to reject the bill.
In 2012, ag-gag bills became law in Missouri, Iowa and Utah—joining Montana, North Dakota and Kansas. This “goes against everything this country has stood for since its inception,” wrote one local journalist about an ag-gag bill introduced in Pennsylvania. But the good news is that, of 15 ag-gag bills introduced in 11 states in 2013, none passed.
This pattern of failure should tell you something about the fatal flaws the laws have in common.
Veteran journalist Bill Moyers spoke about ag-gag laws in 2013, pointing out another surprising commonality among these bills in terms of how they were drafted, why, and by whom.
Factory farm owners will tell you they’re meeting a critical consumer need and treating their animals humanely (if so, why do they need protection from truth-tellers?). But if we’ve learned anything about factory farms, it’s that we can’t leave the safety of those animals to chance:
In 2011, Mercy for Animals released a video shot inside a North Carolina turkey factory farm owned by Butterball. The video shows frightened turkeys being violently kicked, thrown hard against the side of a truck and dragged across the floor. The video also shows birds with bloody open wounds, broken bones and diseased eyes.
Another Mercy for Animals investigation in Texas revealed the depraved abuse of calves at a cattle company in the Texas panhandle.
In case after case, whistleblowers are the only things standing between farm animals and violent abuse—and in some cases, between you and contaminated food. Similarly shocking journalistic exposés led directly to the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual formation of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“Videotaping at factory farms wouldn’t be necessary if the industry were properly regulated. But it isn’t,” writes Bittman in his New York Times column. “The biggest problem of all is that we’ve created a system in which standard factory-farming practices are inhumane… If you’re raising and killing 10 billion animals every year, some abuse is pretty much guaranteed.”
As 2013 comes to a close, the ASPCA is celebrating meaningful changes in state animal welfare laws that will improve the lives of thousands of animals across the country. This year, the ASPCA worked with state legislators and other humane advocacy groups to score 87 victories for animals by enacting new laws or defeating hostile legislation, making 2013 one of the most successful years for our animal welfare policy work.
Here is a small sampling of new laws that the ASPCA and our Advocacy Brigade helped secure—as well as misguided bills we helped defeat—in 2013:
(1) Maryland passed a law to establish one of the strongest, most robustly-funded statewide spay/neuter programs in the country, and West Virginia enacted a comprehensive spay/neuter program as well. These new laws will help reduce pet homelessness and euthanasia of healthy animals.
(2) In Texas, cruel and unnecessary gas chambers can no longer be used to euthanize animals in shelters.
(3) Working with a coalition of animal welfare, environmental, and human rights organizations, the ASPCA helped ensure that none of the 11 ag-gag bills introduced in 2013 (in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming) were passed into law. Pushed by industrial agribusiness, these bills were blatant attempts to cover up illegal and unethical activities on factory farms. Defeating them was critical not only for the protection of animals and the whistleblowers exposing their mistreatment, but also for the safety of the public.
(4) Thanks to groundbreaking legislation passed in Colorado, law enforcement officers will receive training on canine behavior and alternative methods to the use of lethal force in order to reduce accidental dog shootings. A new law in New York State will increase criminal penalties for the intentional killing of police dogs and horses
(5) In California, legislation passed that will phase out lead ammunition for hunting throughout the state to protect wildlife, who are at risk of ingesting contaminated remains, as well as California’s diverse ecosystem.
(6) This was a phenomenal year for animals in Nevada, where seven animal protection bills passed, including legislation to ban horse tripping, enhance penalties for animal fighting and protect wild horses.
(7) In New Jersey, penalties for neglect have been strengthened with the passage of “Patrick’s Law,” named after a dog who was starved nearly to death and thrown down a garbage chute.
(8) Illinois enacted new laws protecting chained dogs, stray farm animals, puppy mill puppies and animals who fall victim to animal fighting.
(9) Animals in Alabama and Ohio are safer from abuse thanks to new laws that strengthen cruelty penalties.
(10) ASPCA-backed legislation passed in Connecticut established a task force to study the origin of dogs and cats in pet shops that will, ideally, pave the way for groundbreaking legislation in 2014 to prevent pet stores from selling puppy mill puppies.
Many state legislatures will reconvene in January, and the ASPCA looks forward to expanding protections for even more for animals in all 50 states.
To find out about animal advocacy events in your area and how you can be more involved in the fight to protect animals, visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center.
Join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade!
By joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, you will receive important alerts from us when we need your help to fight for laws against animal cruelty.
Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new guidelines designed to curb the rampant over- and misuse of antibiotics on factory farms: 80 percent of all antibiotics bought in the United States are purchased to give to farm animals, primarily to speed their growth and prevent illnesses that would otherwise spread like wildfire in their unsanitary, crowded conditions. Daily doses of drugs are propping up an inhumane factory farming system and contributing to growing antibiotic resistance among humans, threatening people’s lives as well.
The FDA now acknowledges that antibiotics should not be used to make animals grow faster, which is important, but the new guidelines are voluntary and the same drugs can still be used for “prevention” of illness. Factory farms wouldn’t need to prevent disease so much if the animals were kept in better conditions. But pharmaceutical and agricultural industries have an economic interest in producing as much product, as cheaply as possible, often at the expense of animal welfare, and routine doses of antibiotics are perpetuating this sick system.
As an example, most of today’s chickens raised for meat spend their lives in giant, windowless sheds where they have less than 1 square foot of space each by the time they are full grown. Breeding for disproportionately large breasts and excessive body weight means they struggle to stand or move. Essentially immobilized in their own waste, chickens raised on factory farms could be at higher risk of carrying Salmonella and other foodborne illnesses. Antibiotics stand in for these birds’ compromised immune systems and allow the meat industry to continue to cut corners dangerously. Farm animals and consumers alike need stronger action from the FDA.
This summer, the Governor of New Jersey vetoed an ASPCA-backed bill to ban the use of gestation crates. Gestation crates are small cages (about 2' × 7') industrialized farms use for confining pregnant pigs.
We were very disappointed by Governor Christie’s veto, but we were also shocked. It doesn’t often happen that 91% of a state’s residents and an overwhelming majority of a state’s legislators—Democrats and Republicans alike—agree on anything. But in New Jersey, the plight of pregnant pigs gave rise to an overwhelming consensus that no animal should be confined in this intolerably cruel manner.
Thankfully, there is still an opportunity to pass the bill to ban gestation crates: State Senator Raymond Lesniak is spearheading an effort to override the governor’s veto.
The override effort has been endorsed by New Jersey’s leading animal protection groups, national groups, industry experts, and major New Jersey news outlets. Press of Atlantic City called gestation crates “the very definition of cruelty.” Banning them, in the words of the Star-Ledger, is “basic decency.” The Times of Trenton asked us to “imagine the outcry if dogs and cats were subjected to such treatment.”
Here’s one more example of how human health and animal welfare are inseparable: On October 7, the USDA announced that 278 people across 18 states have contracted salmonella from eating chicken from a certain West Coast poultry processor. Reports indicate that about 42% of the people infected have been hospitalized—about double the normal rate of hospitalization for Salmonella infections—because this strain of salmonella is resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics.
In a recent U.S. News & World Report story, Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, explained how this life-threatening outbreak is linked to the common industry practice of feeding chickens low doses of antibiotics to compensate for the sickening conditions on factory farms:
"It's not an accident that this particular strain is resistant," he said. "I suspect it's resistant because of the overuse of antibiotics among farm animals."
Chicken live in squalor, Siegel said: "Ninety-five percent of chickens are grown in such horrific conditions that they're standing in poop and they end up infected with salmonella. If one chicken gets it, they all get it."
On top of poor living conditions on farms, most modern chickens are bred to grow so fat, so fast, that many collapse under their own weight and spend much of their lives lying in their own waste, with open sores and wounds.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Chickens deserve better, and so do we. The ASPCA is urging the chicken industry to switch to slower-growing breeds raised in better conditions. Learn more and take action at TruthAboutChicken.org.