Chris Christie Weighs Morality Against His Political Ambitions

“Yo, Chris. I know I don’t have a vote in Iowa, or a Super Pac. But sure would be nice to be able to move around a bit.”

 

The legislators of New Jersey have seen fit to ban cruel gestation crates for pigs, and the pig industry of Iowa demands a Christie vet. Its presidential ambition versus basic compassion and morality, with a deadline of Dec. 1, and I suspect I will not be surprised by which way Christie will go.

But Matthew Scully, a lonely and articulate voice on the right calling for compassion, weighs in with a plea for Christie to ignore the lies and spin he is being fed from Iowa and do the right thing:

Being immobilized for all of their existence, lying and living in their own urine and excrement, the sows are sick, sore, atrophied, usually lame, crazed or broken in spirit, and kept alive in these torments only by a massive and reckless use of steroids. The confinement of the sows, presented in terms of solicitude for the piglets, is among the causes of the welfare problem it purports to solve. And the piglets in any case are taken from their mothers in short order to begin their own lives of merciless confinement, mutilation, privation, and fear, in a process, from birth to slaughter, utterly devoid of human compassion.

I saw all of this myself once on a visit to a mass-confinement hog farm in North Carolina, the kind of investigative tour that would now be a crime in Iowa, taking in scenes that anyone not numbed to the sight of animal suffering would find abhorrent and deeply disturbing. (Let’s just say that Joni Ernst’s celebrated campaign ad, shot in a sunny, straw-filled showcase instead of a typical industrial hog farm, would have lost its sassy charm had the backdrop been the real thing.) The particular issue of the crates may seem a small matter, these extra few inches for a lowly pig, so miserable already and doomed to a nightmarish end. But that’s not a thought I’d stress if I were one of those guys from the National Pork Producers Council talking to Governor Christie. It only draws attention to the sheer pettiness, the unfeeling, unyielding, unchristian spirit, of anyone who would refuse so minimal a comfort to an afflicted animal.

If you and I made a living doing things like this to weak and defenseless creatures, we’d want to steer clear of legal scrutiny too, protesting against intrusions into our private commercial pursuits. But the argument that the bill on Governor Christie’s desk would constitute an undue regulatory burden on hog farmers, by directing the state board of agriculture to write new rules forbidding gestation crates, falls apart the moment you pause to think about it.

Yes, yes it does. And the unspeakable cruelty of industrial pig farming is not an issue that should be ignored for any political purpose.

PS: Here’s Jon Stewart’s take:

Ag-Gag Update: The 48-Hour Twist

NPR has an excellent summary of the ag-gag campaign to shut down undercover filming at factory farms, and it includes a great analysis of the latest wrinkle in the industry campaign to stymie efforts to publicize and spark criminal prosecutions, the 48-hour rule:

But recently, the livestock industry seems to have taken a sharp turn in its legislative tactics.

Consider Assembly Bill 343 in California. Introduced in February, this bill would not prohibit a person from seeking employment at a slaughterhouse under false pretenses, which Iowa and several other states have outlawed. Nor would it forbid anyone from using a hidden camera while on the job, which Utah recently made illegal. All that AB 343 would do, in fact, is require that anyone who videotapes or records animal abuse turn over a copy of the evidence to police within 48 hours.

It sounds like the type of bill that animal welfare groups would welcome — but it isn’t. Rather, these groups have branded AB 343 as simply a new, and subtler, attempt to stifle undercover investigations of animal cruelty.

“The 48-hour time limit is a new twist to stop people from compiling information,” says Amanda Hitt of the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that helps investigate reports of animal abuses.

According to Hitt, in order to prove that a serious animal abuse problem is occurring, undercover investigators must gather lengthy documentation. “You can’t prove that animal abuse is systemic and recurring through one snapshot or video of an abused cow,” she says.

For this reason, says Matt Rice of the group Mercy for Animals, “the last thing we want to do is go to law enforcement at the first sign of animal abuses.”

It is a very shrewd legislative strategy because it sounds so reasonable:

But Justin Oldfield, of the California Cattlemen’s Association — AB 343’s sponsor — says the bill only intends to protect animals. Rather than allowing witnesses to keep quiet while they continue to film or photograph, Oldfield says, the bill mandates prompt reporting. He says that requirement will allow enforcement agencies to take swift action at the first indication of abused animals.

Putting aside any cynicism or belly laughs Oldfield’s statement may inspire, NPR turns to UCLA to ask: so who’s right?

Taimie Bryant, a professor at UCLA School of Law who focuses on animal law, tells The Salt that public prosecutors tend to prioritize types of crimes other than those involving animal cruelty….

…She says legal action usually only occurs if there is media coverage, public outrage and pressure to prosecute.

“Public response [to livestock abuse videos] and clamor are what usually moves these types of cases up the ladder of priorities and motivates prosecutors to take action,” she says.

Even in court, judges are often easy on defendants “if the evidence of animal abuse is thin,” Bryant says.

So that’s the analysis. NPR comes up with a good concrete example of how resistant prosecutors are to tough sanctions:

In 2009, Mercy for Animals publicly revealed seven weeks’ worth of footage recorded at the Willet Dairy in Locke, N.Y. The videos show employees cutting off cows’ horns and tails without using anesthesia. Bellowing calves are seen dragged by the legs away from their mothers. At least one worker was recorded digging his fingers into a struggling calf’s eye socket. Eventually, an employee named Phil Niles was fined several hundred dollars on a misdemeanor animal cruelty conviction.

The Cayuga County district attorney who handled the case, Jon Budelmann, tells The Salt that Niles’ conviction was based largely on footage that showed Niles hitting a cow on the head with a wrench. Other events and images recorded at the Willet Dairy might also appear cruel to some outsiders, he says. But those events did not provide grounds for criminal prosecution, because “they were considered normal within the industry,” Budelmann explains.

You can imagine whether Budelmann would have done anything at all without the publicity. And someone should probably tell him that the question of prosecution should turn on what the law says, not what is “normal” within the industry. The fact that the practices uncovered by Mercy For Animals are “normal” within the industry actually shows the degree to which prosecutors have totally failed to protect animals and hold the industry to even the minimal animal care standards required by the laws which are on the books.

Oh, here’s one more concrete example of how awareness by regulators and prosecutors doesn’t really do much for the animals, while public outrage can change the equation:

Take the case of USDA veterinarian and slaughterhouse inspector Dean Wyatt. In 2010, Wyatt testified before a House subcommittee that, on several occasions, he was either overruled or threatened with demotion or transfer after he told superiors about instances of extreme animal abuse he’d witnessed.

Wyatt said he’d seen employees butchering live animals at both Bushway Packing, a veal plant in Vermont, and at Seaboard Foods, a pig slaughterhouse in Oklahoma.

“He went up the chain of command reporting violations [at the Bushway veal slaughterhouse in Vermont], and they did nothing until the Humane Society [of the United States’] video came out,” says Hitt with the Government Accountability Project.

Because the laws and the prosecutors have failed to rein in serial abuse at factory farms, the single greatest protection animals at factory farms have left is public outrage. Public outrage gets fast food buyers to go elsewhere, and it gets people to stop eating meat, and that hits factory farms in the one place they care about: their wallets.  Which, of course, is why they are pursuing the ag-gag strategy. Apparently, that is easier and less costly than actually stopping the abuse.

Great article. Now you know how to respond to anyone who says that the 48-hour rule is a reasonable solution.

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 Continue reading “Seeing Is Important: Slaughterhouse Transparency Trending”