By Asha Kreiling
Few things disturb me as much as violence towards animals. I can’t tolerate more than a few seconds of footage of the animal abuse that seems to occur so nonchalantly in factory farms and slaughterhouses, but even the short clips I have managed to watch have had a profound impact on my life. These videos make me incredibly sad, angry, depressed and sick to my stomach; but I credit them for opening my eyes to the reality of industrialized agriculture, and for prompting me to re-evaluate my diet and become a vegetarian.
Farm animal abuse footage is shocking and painful to watch, but it’s vital for exposing and ceasing cruelty in the meat industry. For example, in 2008, the Humane Society conducted investigations at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company, a major beef distributor in the National School Lunch Program located in southern California. An employee’s undercover footage exposed horrifying cruelty to “downed” dairy cows (those too sickly and risky to enter the food supply), revealed these cows going off to slaughter and ending up in school lunches across the country. The footage prompted the largest meat recall in history, as well as criminal cruelty charges against the company and its employees, and stricter federal regulation banning the slaughter of downed cows.
But, as always, the meat industry and special interest politicians are taking a step in the wrong direction. New bills introduced by several state legislators would make it more difficult or, in some cases, illegal for animal welfare advocates to conduct the very undercover investigations of animal cruelty that promote public health, food justice and ethical treatment of animals.
Some bills make taking photographs at a farming operation illegal, while others would criminalize animal welfare activists for lying on job applications to get hired.
Bills pending in several states, including California, Nebraska and Tennessee, wouldrequire anyone collecting evidence of abuse to turn it over to law enforcement within 24 to 48 hours. Failing to do so would be an infraction punishable by a fine. State and meat industry representatives explain that their intent is to ensure photographic or video evidence reaches authorities faster so actions addressing any animal neglect or abuse can be taken. They claim that too often activists collect evidence over several months without turning it over to law enforcement in time for authorities to provide help to animal in need.
However, animal advocacy groups like the Humane Society and the ASPCA argue that the real intent of these bills is to make it harder for whistle blowingemployees to expose what really goes on inside factory farms. Activists say that 24 to 48 hours is not enough time to properly and credibly investigate animal cruelty under federal humane handling and food safety laws.
These bills have not arisen in the interest of animal welfare. Instead, they are meant toprotect the industry and its profits by making it more difficult for activists to expose the reality behind slaughterhouse walls. As a result, government agencies would be less inclined to investigate farms and meat companies, public health would be sacrificed, and helpless animals would continue to be tortured. By shifting criminalization from perpetrators of the actual abuse to animal welfare activists, the underlying, systemic problems of the meat industry fall to the wayside.