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Whistle-Blowers Targeted Down on the Farm

PHOTO: Animal cruelty was brought to light at Wyoming Premium Farms in Wheatland, WY, in May of 2012. Undercover exposes might be criminalized if “ag-gag” bills introduced in many states are passed. Courtesy Humane Society of the United States.
PHOTO: Animal cruelty was brought to light at Wyoming Premium Farms in Wheatland, WY, in May of 2012. Undercover exposes might be criminalized if “ag-gag” bills introduced in many states are passed. Courtesy Humane Society of the United States.
June 13, 2013

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Animal cruelty whistle-blowers have shot undercover video exposing illegal or unethical abuse inside factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. In addition to animal abuse, food safety problems have been exposed.

The meat industry is fighting back with bills introduced in many states, including Pennsylvania, that would criminalize the actions of the whistle-blowers.

In response, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spokesman Paul Shapiro observed, "You know that your industry has a lot to hide when it wants to make it a crime just for somebody to document what it is that you're doing."

Industry groups said the bills are intended to protect farmers from activists who produce misleading videos, and they said legislation of this sort promotes animal care. Emily Meredith, Animal Agriculture Alliance, called most video exposes "illicit, underhanded and manipulative."

"America's farmers are pretty fed up with the tactics that groups like this go to to ensure that meat production is stopped in this country," Meredith said.

Duke University law professor Jed Purdy noted there are diverse opinions about how - and if - animals should be raised for food, but he said lack of transparency in the industry doesn't help.

"It's hard to have an intelligent debate on it if we have no clear picture of what's going on in there," Purdy said. "Of course, trying to keep those pictures out of public circulation is what these laws are really about."

Shapiro said employers have a legitimate interest in hiring workers who are not plotting to make undercover videos, but some of the proposed laws overreach.

"What the meat industry wants to do is to put questions on job applications that say, for example, 'Are you affiliated with any animal welfare charity?' If you say no when you really are, they want to not just fire you, they want to put you in jail," Shapiro said.

No state has passed an ag-gag law this year, Shapiro added. In Tennessee, the governor vetoed a similar bill after the attorney general called it "constitutionally suspect."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - PA