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.
This month nine states are considering legislation to criminalize the documentation of animal abuse on farms. “Ag-gag” or anti-whistleblower bills prevent the exposure of photos or video showing the unethical and often highly unsafe practices that all too often occur on industrial farms. This kind of evidence has recently led to cruelty prosecutions, massive food recalls and industry reform. The ASPCA is working hard to make sure these dangerous bills do not become law and you can help by reaching out to your representatives.
There is a reason that footage of farm animals is controversial. The vast majority of U.S. farm animals are raised on factory farms in filthy, overcrowded ammonia-filled sheds. They lead short lives full of suffering and frustration, are bred for unnaturally excessive growth and production, and are regularly dosed with antibiotics to compensate for their wretched surroundings. They also, way too often, are subject to cruel and depraved acts of violence.
The good news is that awareness of farm animal welfare is on the rise in all sectors: among consumers, farmers, legislatures, retailers, prosecutors and even food corporations. Better treatment of farm animals has simply become an ethical imperative, and the ASPCA is on the scene, educating the public, fighting for stronger laws and supporting more humane farming practices.
The findings of a dairy farm investigation were released last week, and they aren’t pretty. Video footage reveals workers beating, kicking, jumping on and shocking cows at Bettencourt Dairies, a major Idaho dairy. In one appalling scene, a cow, apparently unable to stand, is dragged by her neck with a chain attached to a tractor. Five Bettencourt employees have been fired and three face charges of animal cruelty.
As hard as the video is to watch, these acts of cruelty are sadly not unusual. With every new investigation released, we learn that cruelty is rampant on factory farms all around the country. Some of the cruelty comes in the form of obvious violations like in this recent investigation, while some is inherent in the standard practices of factory farming. Unsurprisingly, cruelty and cleanliness are often linked, and raise food and worker safety issues: This video showed extremely unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Farm investigations are one of the few tools animal advocates have to bring criminals to justice, and to pressure the food industry to adopt higher standards of animal welfare and food safety. Aware of the power of these videos, Big Ag lobbies to criminalize investigative workers and keep consumers in the dark. “Ag-gag” bills, introduced over the last few years in states around the country, attempt to make it a crime to document animal abuse on factory farms. Last year we fought hard to defeat these bills in many states. But this year will likely bring a fresh onslaught. Ag-gag bills will continue passing until every one of us stands up to the industry’s effort to block reforms for both consumer and animal welfare.
Guest blog post from Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare.
Last week, we helped organize a Capitol Hill briefing alerting legislators to the animal welfare dangers of misusing antibiotics—something commonly done on factory farms. While antibiotics are essential for treating sick animals, they’re often given on farms to compensate for overcrowded, filthy and stressful conditions. The horrible living conditions, coupled with the overuse of medications, create an added threat of the animals contracting a superbug that can’t be treated with antibiotics.
The briefing was hosted by Representatives Slaughter and Schakowsky, two supporters of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) bill, which aims to tackle this problem. It was gratifying to see these Congress members, who have shown interest in the human health implications of antibiotics for quite some time, showcase the animal welfare impacts, too.
Because the chicken and turkey industries, in particular are notorious for keeping birds in horrific conditions, where they live in their own waste on the floors of sheds packed with tens of thousands of birds, the ASPCA brought farmer Frank Reese to the panel to address the use of antibiotics in poultry farming. Reese raises chickens and turkeys at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a farm that raises heritage (non-factory farm-bred) birds on pasture, allowing them to be true to their nature. Reese explained that, in contrast with factory farmers, he avoids subtherapeutic antibiotics by raising genetically healthy birds in a low-stress, spacious, pastured environment where they do not endure mutilations.
We will continue spreading the word about the dangers of raising animals by relying on subtherapeutic antibiotics, and we hope you will, too! Check whether your senators and Congress member are co-sponsoring PAMTA. If so, thank them; if not, urge them to!