This morning a post written by independent journalist Will Potter made the front page of the social news website Reddit. It’s now blowing up on Twitter. Reaching thousands of people, Potter’s post detailed the first ag-gag prosecution in the United States.
A 25-year-old Utah woman who says she was standing on a public street outside a slaughterhouse used her cell phone to film an injured cow being carted away by a tractor lift. Amy Meyer now faces a class B misdemeanor for agricultural operation interference.
Ag-gag laws, like the one that passed last year in Utah, are specifically designed to silence investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. But they can reach much further than that, potentially penalizing other witnesses and whistle-blowing workers. They can also hide other abuses, including food safety and labor violations. They criminalize acts including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video and/or audio on a farm.
“This case illustrates the underlying intent of these laws: to keep citizens in the dark about what happens to animals on factory farms and where their food comes from,” says Suzanne McMillan, Director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign.
Guest blog by Daisy Freund, Manager of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Campaign
Did you know that roughly 9 billion animals are raised for dairy, meat and eggs each year in the U.S.? Most of these animals are crammed together by the hundreds or thousands. Not only do these factory farms have poor or nonexistent animal welfare standards—but they’re also environmental nightmares.
Here are the top five ways factory farms are hurting the Earth:
Animal agriculture generates 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, including 9% of carbon dioxide, 65% of nitrous oxide emissions and 37% of methane emissions. Most of that methane comes from belching cows and rotting manure.
In the U.S., confined animals generate three times more raw waste than humans generate. Their manure is commonly stored in open-air “poop lagoons,” which release dangerous toxins such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane into the air and leach heavy metals, drugs and other additives given to the animals into the ground water. That’s just gross!
The waste is often used as crop fertilizer and over-applied to nearby fields, resulting in further air pollution and high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water supply. Excess nitrogen robs water of oxygen and destroys aquatic life.
Factory farms deplete our water by using large volumes for cleaning, cooling and drinking.
The fossil fuels required to raise this staggering number of animals and produce their food emit 90 million tons of carbon dioxide worldwide every year. More than half of the world’s corn is fed to animals, and corn requires more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop.
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.
It’s about time. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced its intention to ban the slaughter of veal calves who are too sick, injured or weak to stand.
Many experts believe “downer” adult cattle are at higher risk of having Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. For that reason, the USDA has already banned the slaughter of adult downer cattle, requiring that they be promptly and humanely euthanized. However, downercalves may be kept alive indefinitely in slaughter facility pens, leaving them vulnerable to cruel mistreatment.
“This decision should close a loophole that has allowed sick calves to be roughly handled, neglected and left to suffer,” says Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare.“We hope the agency will enact these changes quickly to protect calves and consumers.”
Nearly 700,000 veal calves are slaughtered annually in the U.S.—many are under three weeks of age.
While the USDA has committed to changing its policy on downer calf slaughter, the agency still needs to issue a new rule to formalize the change and put it into effect.
Take Action! Please tell the USDA to prioritize protecting calves from cruelty. Email U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator Almanza today and urge them to change regulations on downer calves immediately.