SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

March 19, 2013

Legislators abet “Cover-up”

Privacy rights

Bills would curb videos of farm-animal abuse


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An undercover video that showed California  cows struggling to stand as they were led to slaughter by forklifts,  led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.  In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant’s closure and criminal convictions.

  • Now, in a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators across the country are introducing laws making it harder for animal-welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food-safety cases.

Some bills make it illegal to take photographs at a farming operation. Others make it a crime for someone such as an animal-welfare advocate to lie on an application to get a job at a plant.

Bills pending in California, Nebraska and Tennessee require that anyone collecting evidence of abuse turn it over to law enforcement within 24 to 48 hours — which advocates say does not allow enough time to document illegal activity under federal humane-handling and food-safety laws.

“We believe that folks in the agriculture community and folks from some of the humane organizations share the same concerns about animal cruelty,” said Mike Zimmerman, chief of staff for Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, whose bill was unveiled this week. “If there’s abuse taking place, there is no sense in letting it continue so you can make a video.”

Patterson’s bill, sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association, would make failing to turn over video of abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours an infraction punishable by a fine.

  • Critics say the bills are an effort to deny consumers the ability to know how their food is produced.

“The meat industry’s mantra is always that these are isolated cases, but the purpose of these bills is to prevent any pattern of abuse from being documented,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm-animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, which conducted the California and Vermont investigations.

  • In Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania, it would be a crime to make videos at agricultural operations.
  • Formal opposition to the California bill comes from the ASPCA, the Teamsters, the Humane Society and dozens of others. They say these attempts by the agriculture industry to stop investigations are a part of a nationwide agenda set by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative research group backed by business interests.

ALEC has labeled those who interfere with animal operations “terrorists,” though a spokesman said he wishes now that the organization had called its legislation the “Freedom to Farm Act” rather than the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.”

  • “At the end of the day it’s about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy,” said spokesman Bill Meierling. “You wouldn’t want me coming into your home with a hidden camera.”

Last year, Iowa, a major egg-producing state, passed a bill making it illegal to deny being a member of an animal-welfare organization on a farm job application. Utah passed one that outlaws photography.

Animal-welfare advocates say all of the focus on secrecy is energy misspent.

“I wish the cattlemen actually wanted to stop cruelty, not the documenting of cruelty,” said Humane Society California director Jennifer Fearing. “One could think of a thousand ways for them to actually stop cruelty rather than waiting for people to make videos and turn them over.”

Most of the sensational videos of abuse in recent years are shot by undercover operatives who surreptitiously apply and are hired by the meat processors for jobs within the facilities. One recorded last year by Compassion over Killing at Central Valley Meats in Hanford, Calif. showed a worker standing on a downed dairy cow’s nostrils to suffocate it and others repeatedly shot in the head, prompting several fast-food hamburger chains to cancel contracts, at least temporarily.

Animal-welfare groups say investigations take weeks because the operatives nose around only when they aren’t performing the duties for which they were hired.

“Believe me, our investigators would like to be out of there as soon as possible. They’re stoic, they’re courageous, but they are not enjoying their work at all,” said Mary Beth Sweetland, director of investigations for the Humane Society.

(My Comment:   

This story had my ire stirred over it’s category title of “Privacy Rights,”   in other words, before it even started.   The whole premise is wrong, for this is nothing more than people who feel justified doing whatever they want because they are special – somehow above the law.  Their intentions are deceitful and larcenous – crimes actually; actions for which  the law closes them down and/or fines them for doing business unlawfully. 

Privacy rights do not come close to relevance here.  These companies are not in their bedrooms or having private meals in their homes.  They are doing business with a product designed for public consumption to which the public has every right possible to be able to ascertain what it is they are eating and to have knowledge about the full scope and meaning of the way in which their “food” is handled from beginning to end.  There isn’t an ethical or theoretic leg to stand on.

Any company does have the right to hire whom they choose.  But they are no more able to step over certain boundaries than any other companies who are legally prevented from inquiring into much personal data.

This is little more than the GUILTY making every effort to keep from getting caught, because they have no plans to change the way they do business.

Be aware America;  is this the way you want your animals treated that you choose to eat as food?  We are not a cruel, uncaring people – – why should animals have to suffer for any reason?  They should be treated humanely and with respect.  If these corporations can’t comply with these bare essentials, they shouldn’t be in this business.    Jan)


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