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Whistle-Blowers Targeted Down on the Farm

PHOTO: Animal cruelty was brought to light at Wyoming Premium Farms in Wheatland, Wyo., in May 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, Wyo., in May 2012. Undercover exposes might be criminalized if “ag-gag” bills introduced in many states are passed. Courtesy Humane Society of the United States.
June 17, 2013

BOSTON - Animal-cruelty whistle-blowers have shot undercover video exposing illegal or unethical abuse inside factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. The meat industry is fighting back with bills introduced in many states that would criminalize the actions of such whistle-blowers.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm-animal protection of the Humane Society of the United States, doesn't think much of that.

"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," he declared.

Food safety problems have been exposed in addition to animal abuse. Industry groups say the bills are intended to protect farmers from activists who produce misleading videos, and that legislation of this sort promotes animal care.

Emily Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance describes most video exposés as "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."

According to Duke University law professor Jed Purdy, there's a lot of debate about how, and whether, animals should be raised for food, but 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," he declared. "And of course, trying to keep those pictures out of public circulation is what these laws are really about."

The Humane Society of the United States' Shapiro said employers have a legitimate interest in hiring workers who are not plotting to make undercover videos - but he thinks 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?' And if you say no, when you really are, they want to not just fire you, they want to put you in jail," he said.

He noted that no state has passed an ag-gag law so far this year. In Tennessee, the governor vetoed a similar bill after the attorney general called it "constitutionally suspect."



Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA