Seeing Is Important: Slaughterhouse Transparency Trending

The New York Times catches up with the Ag-Gag problem:

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.”

Officials from the group did not respond to a request for comment.

Mercy For Animals argues that this sort of exposure is an example of how the factory farm industry’s pursuit of ag-gag laws is an over-reach that is backfiring by drawing MORE attention to the conditions of slaughterhouses (one can hope, I guess):

In response to a spate of undercover investigations that have uncovered horrific animal abuse and shocking food safety problems in meat, dairy, and egg production, the factory farming industry has been furiously lobbying to pass “ag-gag” laws designed to keep its cruel and unsanitary practices hidden from public view. But that effort seems to be backfiring, as scores of media outlets nationwide are throwing back the curtain on Big Ag and shining a bright light on the industry’s sickening practices…[snip]

…Here is just a sample of the ag-gag news coverage in only the last few weeks:

Associated Press: Bills Seek End To Farm Animal Abuse Videos

Mother Jones: Flies, Maggots, Rats, and Lots of Poop: What Big Ag Doesn’t Want You To See

Nightline: ‘Ag Gag’ Bills Target Hidden Cameras

Raw Story: Business Lobby Moves to Criminalize Filming Animal Abuse on Factory Farms

Bakersfield Californian: Cattle Industry Must Rethink ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill

Food Safety News: “Ag-Gag” Bills Getting Hearings Today in Nebraska, Arkansas and Tennessee

Salon: States Seek “Ag-Gag” Laws to Silence Farm Whistleblowers

Vice: Beat Your Meat: Factory Farmers Want to Choke Their Chickens in Private

Huffington Post: Why Everyone Should Be Angry About Factory Farming

Lowell Sun: Agri-farm Bills Would Weaken Oversight

The Daily Aztec: Only We Can Stop Inhumane Factory Farming

Herald Times: Bill would shield farms, factories from cameras

Public Source: Bill would limit whistleblower activities on PA farms

Ironically, as the factory farming industry more desperately tries to hide its cruel practices, the more they are exposed.

You can see why a farm owner might prefer that this sort of imagery be criminalized (instead of the behavior it shows).

But if this op-ed contributor to the Times got his way, I think we could definitely conclude that the ag-gag initiative backfired. He calls for a simple solution that many of us have long thought would have a powerful moderating effect on the cruelty at factory farms. A little technology known as web cams:

So-called ag-gag laws, proposed or enacted in about a dozen states, make, or would make, criminals of animal-rights activists who take covert pictures and videos of conditions on industrial farms and slaughterhouses. Some would even classify the activists as terrorists.

The agriculture industry says the images are unfair. They seem to show cruelty and brutality, but the eye can be deceiving. The most humane way of slaughtering an animal, or dealing with a sick one, may look pretty horrible. But so does open-heart surgery. The problem with making moral arguments by appealing to revulsion is that some beneficial and indispensable acts can also be revolting. With gruesome shots of cadavers, a skilled amateur could make a strong emotional case against using them to teach anatomy in medical school.

Moreover, the industry says, the activists are trespassers, or, when they’re employees working undercover for an animal-rights group or news organization, they’re going beyond the terms of their employment. Slaughterhouses and confined-feeding operations can be dangerous places. Although the industry surely exaggerates the risk, guerrilla actions are not the safest or best way to spur reflection on how we treat animals.

Fairness and safety are real issues. So is transparency, and that is why we should require confined-feeding operations and slaughterhouses to install webcams at key stages of their operations. List the URL’s to the video on the packaging. There would be no need for human intrusion into dangerous sites. No tricky angles or scary edits by activists. Just the visual facts. If the operators felt their work misrepresented, they could add cameras to give an even fuller picture.

What are the odds that the industry will accept this Swiftian proposal? Zero. But Congress and the USDA, if they weren’t so deep in the pocket of Big Meat, could do the right thing. And public pressure could also make a difference (though there is a certain degree of willful denial among meat-loving citizens).

It would be the right thing to do for all humans and animals concerned. Because whenever industry and regulators are afraid of transparency you know something terrible is happening.

A worker in Tennessee striking a horse. (Credit: The Humane Society of the United States)

3 thoughts on “Seeing Is Important: Slaughterhouse Transparency Trending”

  1. Breaks my heart for these animals. If nothing else these animals need to be treated fairly and not abused before their inevitable fates… its absolutely revolting, the men who commit such crimes against the animals in slaughter houses…what scumbags.
    Its incredible that the people caught on tape can even try and defend their actions!
    anyone in their right mind can see that what they do to the animals before they are even killed is not moral nor ethical.

    Hopefully as more and more attention is brought to the conditions and actions taking place inside slaughter houses, change will eventually come with it…for the animals sakes.
    just as Paul said…”If slaughter houses had glass walls….”
    so we can hope that this exposure will continue to make a difference.


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