Society

Animal-Cruelty Undercover Investigations: Will ‘Ag-Gag’ Laws End Exposure of Abuses in the Meat Industry?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty
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“Across the nation, the agriculture lobby is pushing legislators to pass bills that would hobble undercover investigations that help prevent abuse,” writes Cody Carlson, a former undercover investigator for the advocacy group Mercy for Animal. In a review in The Atlantic (March 25), Cody examines how powerful meat-industry lobbyists are pressuring lawmakers to pass “ag-gag” laws to make undercover videos of cruelty to animals illegal.

The article is first heartening and then alarming. Carlson announces the encouraging news that last Thursday the New Jersey State Assembly voted 60-5 in favor of a bill banning the use of "gestation crates" on factory hog farms. He explains that, “If the state senate ratifies the bill and Governor Chris Christie signs it into law, New Jersey will be the tenth state to have outlawed this controversial factory-farm technology.”

Cody tells us he is praying for the law to pass for the welfare of millions of breeding sows confined for their entire reproductive life to concrete and metal cages barely larger than their own bodies. He tells how these very intelligent and highly social animals are “driven mad by a lifetime of constant pregnancy and extreme confinement…frantically chewing on or banging their heads against the bars of their cage, clear signs of extreme frustration and anxiety.”

But, this is not considered inhumane by pork industry representatives who see it only as a cost-cutting measure that boosts profits. A spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council stated, ".... The only real measure of their well-being we have is the number of piglets per birth, and that's at an all-time high."

Let us all pray that the New Jersey bill continues its passage through the senate and is signed by Governor Christie post-haste.

EFFORTS TO STOP WHISTLEBLOWERS

On the dark side, some states are going backwards. Cody Carlson says that six states are currently considering laws that would make it illegal for investigators to produce the undercover videos that have been critical in bringing public awareness—and thus outrage—to the conditions under which food animals are often kept and killed.

Cody says that, “Iowa and Utah already passed similar laws last year, and legislation is now pending in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee.” Pennsylvania is also currently considering passing an "ag gag" law, and similar laws have been proposed, but put aside for this session, in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming. He adds that Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont are expected to introduce similar bills this year.

Carlson reminds us that there are no federal laws in the United States which protect animals on factory farms from cruelty and that, “…over the past two decades, at least 37 states have amended animal-cruelty laws to exempt "common" or "normal" farming practices.”

Cody is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable writers on the cruelty in factory farms and slaughterhouses. He has personally been at the heart of the progress that has brought changes to the lives of factory-farmed animals through public awareness. It was only a few decades ago that shoppers never thought about the life and death of animals whose cold, butchered bodies fill meat-counter displays or the desperation of an egg-producing hen who can barely stand or turn in a tight cage for her entire life span.

Cody is also a realist. He reminds us things are changing despite the meat-industries efforts to stop whistleblowers. His article, ‘How State Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers,’ is extremely important and should be read in its entirety by all vegans and vegetarians and anyone who truly cares about animals. Certainly the mental/emotional well-being and physical soundness of animals that are going to be ingested by humans—especially by someone you love--should be of concern to everyone.

Cody Carlson reminds us that, “… the backers of these bills seem less concerned about the 3 percent of Americans who are vegan or vegetarian and more concerned about the growing collection of data showing that Americans believe that animals raised for food deserve our empathy and consideration.”

We must not forget how quickly the progress for animal-welfare can be lost under pressures on lawmakers by a profit-driven industry whose values are measured only by production.

Cody Carlson says of those who are currently pressing for laws and constitutional amendments that assure no humane efforts for animals can thwart cruel, dollar-driven practices, “Instead of trying to shut us up, they should be following the examples of leaders around the world, including in New Jersey, who are beginning to pave a way forward.”

Read more: How State Ag-Gag Laws Could Stop Animal-Cruelty Whistleblowers