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Animals, Cruelty and Videotape


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The animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals sent an undercover investigator to E6 Cattle Company in Texas, where he filmed calf abuse over a two-week period.

To prevent such whistleblowing, several states have passed so-called “Ag-gag” laws that would make it illegal to clandestinely film inside slaughterhouses, sparking what animal rights activists fear will be a nationwide trend.

A bill introduced in the Minnesota House in early April punishes not only videographers who pose as workers and record the inhumane treatment of animals, but also those who distribute said videos. The bill seeks to make it a felony to disrupt operations at factory farms, a component intended to punish activists and protesters. One of the sponsors is Rep. Rod Hamilton, a former president of the Minnesota Pork Producers.

The Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Annette Sweeney, a Republican and a former executive director of the Iowa Angus Association, that would not only punish whistleblowers but also those who take jobs for the sole purpose of exposing abuses. Those convicted could face five years in prison. Rep. Sweeney said she believes this bill will encourage people to report abuses: “As a livestock producer, I want people to feel if they see something going on this bill empowers them.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, begs to differ: “They’re trying to criminalize someone being an eyewitness to a crime,” Jeff Kerr, the organization’s general counsel, said. The measure was introduced after humane groups released videos showing chicks being ground alive and pigs being beaten and shocked.

A bill proposed by Florida state senator Jim Norman would make it a first-degree felony to photograph a farm without written permission from the owner. The bill is currently in the criminal justice committee of the state senate. The maximum prison time for a first-degree felony in Florida is 30 years.

Kansas and Montana have passed anti-whistleblower laws, and though they aren’t aimed at secret filming in factory farms, Tom Laskawy from Grist says the effort is coordinated. “Big Ag has been known to coordinate legislative campaigns state by state,” he said, pointing to Monsanto’s ultimately unsuccessful push to prohibit labels on milk that alert customers to the presence of artificial hormones.

In further deregulation news, after facing stiff resistance from Republicans and the agribusiness lobby, Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson assured a gathering of agricultural leaders in Iowa that her agency has no plans to regulate farm runoff, despite its hazards. “Runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus from farms damages water quality in Iowa and elsewhere in the Mississippi basin and contributes to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” the Des Moines Register reported.

What we’re reading:

Jane Black writes in The Atlantic about pork’s new slogan, and the food industry’s need to convey virtue.

Also in The Atlantic, Hank Cardello, a former Big Food executive, argues that the Happy Meal toy ban won’t make kids healthier.

Guest blogger Ali Partovi asserts in Tech Crunch that food is the new frontier in green technology.

Lester Brown in Foreign Policy explains the new, dangerous geopolitics of food.

Gary Taubes’ condemnation of sugar in the New York Times Magazine triggered a fierce debate about whether all sugar is toxic—and possibly cancer-causing. Melanie Warner chides him on BNET for glossing over the benefits of naturally occurring sugar.

April 27, 2011