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Paul and Cummins report: "How do you keep consumers in the dark about the horrors of factory farms? By making it an 'act of terrorism' for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce the bulk of our meat, eggs and dairy products."

Factory farms are cruel and bad for the environment and our health. (photo: Alexandre Meneghini/AP)
Factory farms are cruel and bad for the environment and our health. (photo: Alexandre Meneghini/AP)

Reporting Factory Farms Abuses to Be Considered "Act of Terrorism" If New Laws Pass

By Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet

26 January 13


Three states are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws and lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012.

ow do you keep consumers in the dark about the horrors of factory farms? By making it an "act of terrorism" for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce the bulk of our meat, eggs and dairy products.

And who better to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, designed to protect Big Ag and Big Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws aimed at preventing employees, journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms. Lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012. The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah. But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

In all, six states now have Ag-Gag laws, including North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, all of which passed the laws in 1990-1991, before the term "Ag-Gag" was coined.

Ag-Gag laws passed 20 years ago were focused more on deterring people from destroying property, or from either stealing animals or setting them free. Today's ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose horrific acts of animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of those exposes have resulted from undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make illegal.

Wyoming's HB 0126 is the perfect example of a direct link between an undercover investigation of a factory farm and the introduction of an Ag-Gag law. The bill was introduced mere weeks after nine factory workers at Wheatland, WY-based Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods, were charged with animal cruelty following an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS activists videotaped workers kicking live piglets, swinging them by their hind legs and beating and kicking mother pigs. Charges were filed in late December. In January, State Rep. Sue Wallis and Senator Ogden Driskill introduced Wyoming's Ag-Gag bill which would make it a criminal act to carry out investigations such as the one that exposed the cruelty at Wyoming Premium Farms.

Wallis and Driskill both have ties to Big Ag. Wallis was the subject of a conflict-of-interest complaint filed in 2010 by animal welfare groups. The groups accused her of improper and fraudulent abuse of her position as a legislator after she introduced a bill allowing the Wyoming Livestock Board to send stray horses to slaughter. At the time she introduced the bill, Wallis also was planning to develop a family-owned horse slaughter plant in the state. Both Wallis and Driskill are members of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. Driskill has accepted political contributions from the livestock industry and Exxon Mobil, a member of ALEC.

Most of the Ag-Gag laws introduced since 2011 borrow the premise, if not the exact language, from model legislation designed by ALEC. ALEC's sole purpose is to write model legislation that protects corporate profits. Industry then pushes state legislators to adapt the bills for their states and push them through. The idea behind the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act is to make it illegal to "enter an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner."

In other words, these laws turn journalists and the investigators of crimes into criminals.

Many of the legislators involved in ramming through state Ag-Gag bills have ties to ALEC, including Missouri's Rep. Casey Guernsey. Guernsey's top donor in 2010 was Smithfield Foods, itself a target of undercover investigations that exposed widespread abuse of pigs. Of the 60 Iowa lawmakers who voted for Iowa's Ag-Gag laws, at least 14 of them, or 23%, are members of ALEC

ALEC's interest in large-scale factory farm operations, or in industry-speak, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), can be traced to one of its staunchest members, Koch Industries. Koch Industries once owned the Koch Beef Company, one of the largest cattle feeders in the U.S. When neighbors of one of the company's huge cattle-feeding operations opposed a planned expansion, claiming it would pose health concerns, Koch persuaded local legislators to rule in its favor. ALEC subsequently wrote the "Right to Farm Act," a bill to bar lawsuits by citizens claiming that neighboring farms, including industrial farms, are fouling their air and water.

Ag-Gag bills a threat to animals, public health and the environment

Under U.S. laws, farm animals don't get the same protection as other animals, such as dogs and cats. Anti-free speech Ag-Gag bills only serve to leave farm animals even more vulnerable to the routine pain and suffering on factory farms. The three federal statutes that address animal welfare, including the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, do not apply to animals raised for food. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act regulates animals raised for food, but applies exclusively to slaughterhouses, where animals may spend only a short time before they are killed. That leaves the states to regulate the often-barbarous treatment of animals raised for food.

But as we've seen with the Ag-Gag bills, state laws often are written by big corporations. Nowhere is that more obvious than in states where cruel methods of treating animals are exempted from state laws on the basis of their being classified as "customary." Who decides if a certain practice is "customary" even if most thinking people would consider that practice cruel? Corporations that own and operate CAFOs in that state.

Apart from the obvious ethical concerns, Ag-Gag laws also threaten public health and the environment, and undermine workers' rights and free speech laws. Undercover investigations at factory farms have exposed the mishandling of meat, eggs and milk in ways that could potentially lead to health risks including mad cow disease, salmonella, e-coli and others. One investigation in Chino, Calif., revealed widespread mistreatment of "downed" cows - cows that are too sick or injured to walk. The facility is the second-largest supplier of beef to USDA's Commodity Procurement Branch, which distributes the beef to the National School Lunch Program.

Ag-Gag bills also keep employees and others from blowing the whistle on environmental violations. Huge amounts of waste are generated by the billions of cows, pigs and chickens on factory farms. Much of that waste, full of antibiotics, growth promoters and synthetic hormones, finds its way into our waterways and municipal water supplies. State and federal laws require CAFOs to minimize their environmental damage, but the laws are often not enforced. One of the ways to expose violations is through undercover investigations.

And then there's the matter of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has been an outspoken opponent of Ag-Gag bills. In a letter opposing the proposed Ag-Gag law in New Hampshire, the executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union wrote that the proposed law "has serious implications for two fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions: the right to freedom of expression and the right against self-incrimination."

There's still time to stop Ag-Gag laws in New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska

The majority of Americans see Ag-Gag laws for what they are: just another attack on consumers' right to know. According to a poll conducted last year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 71% of Americans oppose the laws. When consumers learn that 99% of the animals raised for food are raised in factory farms, they generally agree that lawmakers should focus on strengthening animal cruelty laws, not prosecuting the whistleblowers.

It was public outrage that killed proposed bills in seven states last year. Here are the three latest bills to be introduced, and links to petitions telling lawmakers in New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska to reject the proposed laws:

New Hampshire: HB110

Primary sponsor: Bob Haefner (R) ; Co-sponsors: Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff (D), Rep. Tara Sad (D), Senator Sharon Carson (R), and Bob Odell (R)

This is a 7-line bill written to look as if its main concern is the protection of animals. However the bill would require whistleblowers to report animal abuse and turn over videotapes, photographs and documents within 24 hours or face prosecution - a clear attempt to intimidate and deter people from conducting undercover investigations. Lawmakers know that in order for anyone to prove a pattern of abuse in factory farms, they must document repeated instances of cruelty. A video or photograph of only one instance will be dismissed as a one-time anomaly, which will get the agribusiness company off the hook.

Sign the petition to stop New Hampshire's Ag-Gag bill.

Wyoming: HB0126

Co-sponsors: Rep. Sue Wallis (R), Sen. Ogden Driskill (R)

Introduced within weeks after nine workers at a Wyoming factory farm were charged with abuse. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Sue Wallis, is planning to build horse slaughterhouses in Wyoming and other states. If this bill had been law in 2012, it would have prevented activists from exposing horrific acts of cruelty at Wheatland, WY-based Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods.

Sign the petition to stop Wyoming's Ag-Gag bill.

Nebraska: LB 204

Introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson (R), Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh (R), and Sen. Ken Schilz (R)

The bill would make it a Class IV felony for any person to obtain employment at an animal facility with the broadly defined "intent to disrupt the normal operations," It would require animal abuse reports to be filed within 12 hours. Co-sponsor Sen. Launtenbaugh has advocated in the past for horse slaughtering.

Sign the petition to stop Nebraska's Ag-Gag bill. your social media marketing partner


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+45 # hamster_baby 2013-01-26 15:17
This is completely absurd. The real criminals are the abusers, the factory farms, and those politicians who they buy. They're the ones that ought to be behind bars. Tired of all the greed-driven sociopaths that run things in the world...
+7 # Adoregon 2013-01-27 16:04
These surreal laws give new meaning to the phrase "shoving ________ down people's throats."
You fill in the blank.
+42 # KrazyFromPolitics 2013-01-26 17:18
Factory farming is the terrorist group. There is state movement to persecute whistle-blowers . The only thing that will beat things like this back is the light of day, truth, and hundreds of millions of people to get off their lazy asses and demand better. A start would be massive boycotts. I think about all of the media hoopla when Twinkies became an endangered species, and people lamenting how their lives would never be the same if this Frankenfood from the periodic table were to disappear. If it's that necessary learn ho to make your own sponge cake.

I wonder if a worker exposed that there was massive "Mad Cow Disease" in products in the market if he/she would be charged with terrorism. Stop buying the crap foisted on us, and demand ethical practices and watch the change in product quality and service. Through an organized effort of boycotting for one week the corporate creeps would notice that a massive rejection of their products is doable. Sigh, I know. Ain't gonna happen.
+21 # MidwestTom 2013-01-26 22:58
Throughout the Midwest when a fanily farm comes up for sale the bids are run way out of reason by the big bidders, who most often are the big insurance companies. John Hancock is the largest land owner by far in several counties, and once they buy ground they never sell. Slowly but surely the good land is being owned by insurance companies. This trend is killing once thriving small towns, and giving consumers more and more GMO foods. No insurance company is into organic food.
+15 # LML 2013-01-27 00:31
Glad I am an organic vegan and not apenny of my money goes into their greedy little pockets....
+19 # Smokey 2013-01-27 04:22
Call it "the new fascism." Again and again, big corporation use government to protect the corporate postion at the consumer's expense.
+5 # Mannstein 2013-01-27 12:17
You might be interested to know that Nazi Germany in the 1930s passed laws making mistreating animals including vivesection a criminal offence. Its main sponsor was non other than the "evil" Hermann Goering. This fact might not fit into the Hollywood view of Fascism which most Americans have been brain washed with but that's the reality. Incidentally, in Germany these laws are still on the books.
+13 # spercepolnes 2013-01-27 05:31
I'm sorry - the more I see of these sorts of laws, the more I'm convinced the USA is stuffed! Worse - the corporates are now imposing their digusting practices and laws on other countries, as though they are "just another beknighted State" of the USA!
+14 # keenon the truth 2013-01-27 07:20
This country is not a good place to live!
+16 # RMDC 2013-01-27 07:46
Factory farming is such a huge crime. It destroys small scale family farms -- they very sort of industry that the USG should try to protect. The level of cruelty to animals his just horrific. All animals are smart and have feelings. They just want to live and be happy just as humans do. Someday, will we have factory farms to breed humans for labor? It could happen. It did happen in the time of US slavery.
+13 # Merschrod 2013-01-27 07:47
Opposition to corporations and the free flow of the capitalist system needs to be viewed as terrorism because they would bring down the "system." Hence, we need one for the Wall Street executives who do inside trading and manipulation of the capitalist system = They are either treasonous or just plan interested in terrorizing congress into stampede.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander!
+17 # Merschrod 2013-01-27 07:48
That being said - we need to protect the whistle blowers - free flow of info!
+21 # RMDC 2013-01-27 08:16
Factory farming is bad for the nation on all counts. Animals in factory farms are not considered "animals." They are raw materials or industrial inputs, right along side of any "matrial" such as coal or iron ore. In the case of animals, they are simply protein. This is wrong. It is inhumane. The factory is the wrong model for a farm. If we had a decent government, factory farming would be a crime.
+13 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-01-27 09:20
In effect, legalizing cruelty to animals & outlawing their protectors: a further descent into the most vile barbarism.
+15 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-01-27 09:44

Why is it that I can not sign in on neither the Nebraska, Wyoming, nor NH petitions? The mass Animal Abuse Factories ship their meat to every state?

Love to all sweet pigs everywhere!

Time to OCCUPY the animal farms...
+13 # NAVYVET 2013-01-27 10:08
I'm a vegetarian only 3 or 4 times a week. Maybe I should be all week, every week, for entirely moral reasons.
+10 # Wolfchen 2013-01-27 10:28
This is just another example of our nation, along with other parts of the world, being taken over by corporations. Our corrupted judicial system has assisted them in such treasonous objectives, along with corrupted members of our government. Notice also that most major media sources are not giving coverage to these onslaughts against our democracy. An uninformed, apathetic and outright ignorant public is easier to control.
+12 # Glen 2013-01-27 10:43
Between the destruction of the land - check out what is being done in North Dakota, for instance - and the abuse of wildlife, the U.S., not to even mention the rest of the world is a warning to us all. The future does look bleak.

Domesticated animals and their treatment represents that same attitude and is sadistic beyond definition. Human beings will get their comeuppance and it won't be long.

RMDC puts it nicely with a very real warning about breeding human workers.
+5 # Mannstein 2013-01-27 12:30
If one is a suspected US terrorist one can be taken out by the POTUS with drone launched missile last time I checked. No jury trial required. That's now considered superfluous, the Constitution not withstanding. Wonder if the POTUS would dare do that to a citizen of Russia or China?
+1 # Doubter 2013-01-27 21:30
"Wonder if the POTUS would dare do that to a citizen of Russia or China?"

+5 # Allears 2013-01-27 12:48
Some maybes:
Maybe if an empathy for non-dog and non-cat animals could be cultivated among `pet`lovers(whi ch in North America surpasses all understanding), then they would all stop eating pork, beef and chicken. Maybe the supporters of humane treatment of all animals, including those that we eat, will in future master the fabrication of drones, and these torture factories could be obliterated, putting these animals out of their misery. And as for the factory breeding of human workers, a careful analysis of world-wide treatment of labour might reveal that this is already happening on an insidious, not easily-discerne d, level(example: where do fast-foods build their outlets?-close to lowrent or subsidized housing projects, and not just for the customers, but for the workers living there, trapped on the treadmill of low-wage, non-union jobs).
+4 # Corvette-Bob 2013-01-27 15:52
I cannot understand what is going on in our country. I will talk to everyone I know and tell them to stop eating meat products and I will explain how it will kill them and by eating their poison you are only helping these cruel people who want to silence the people from speak out against the barbaric civilization.
+1 # rhgreen 2013-01-28 18:42
I wonder what would happen if someone from another state, a New Yorker say, went to one of these 'gag law' states and uncovered abuse but went back home to publicize it. The 'gag law' state could charge him but if New York refused to extradite him, then what? Then nothing I suspect. It would be just like the civil rights era when freedom riders from northern states ignored race laws and attempts to enforce them in the south. They were OK as long (as they weren't killed). Same in this case, probably.
+2 # RnR 2013-01-29 09:30
If you read what the ptb's present (that means the government, the corporations etc.,) and explore the exact opposite you'll be at the approximate truth.

Anybody espousing animal abuse is a terrorist and I include those that smugly refer to themselves as researchers or scientists - what a joke.

Those that are working towards gagging protesters and animal rights activists are probably closet sadists (ala Bill Frist the kitten torturer who successfully protected the pharmaceutical industry from any liability related to vaccines while he was in Congress).

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