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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

NASHUA, N.H. - 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 these activists.

Paul Shapiro, speaking for the Humane Society of the United States, responded, "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."

Food safety problems have been exposed, too, in addition to animal abuse.

Industry groups have said the bills are intended to protect farmers from activists who produce misleading videos, and that legislation of this sort promotes animal care.

Emily Meredith, Animal Agriculture Alliance, described 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," she said.

Duke University law professor Jed Purdy noted that there is lot of debate about how - and if - animals should be raised for food, but lack of transparency in the industry does not 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."

HSUS spokesman 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?' If you say no, when you really are, they want to not just fire you, they want to put you in jail," Shapiro said.

In New Hampshire, HB 110 would have required people who record cruelty to livestock to report the cruelty and submit the recordings to a law enforcement agency. It was retained in committee.




Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NH