Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie

“Psst. I hear Christie might spring us.” “Nah. These days he cares more about what Iowa thinks than what New Jersey thinks.”

Want to know how you will be able to tell whether Chris Christie has decided to run for President in 2016? If he vetoes a widely popular law to ban gestation crates in New Jersey.

The Daily Beast explains:

In 2013, a measure to make illegal an inhumane farming practice made its way to Christie’s desk. S.1921 would have banned gestation crates—small, metal cages which are used to contain breeding sows during industrial pork production. There was no reason to assume Christie would veto it. For one thing, the cages—so small that the animals can barely move at all or lie down—were not even thought to be used much among the 250 pig farmers in the state, meaning the ban would be more of a symbolic gesture than one that would really impact farming methods. But more than that, the bill had passed almost unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was supported by 91 percent of voters, making it perhaps the most popular idea to be floated in the Garden State since Bruce Springsteen had been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame several years earlier.

When Christie vetoed the bill, he claimed that it was because two obscure national veterinarian groups had not endorsed it (although a coalition of 100 others had) and that the Department of Agriculture wasn’t involved enough. But many assumed that it had more to do with his dreams of the White House, for which he would need the support of voters and donors in Iowa—a pork manufacturing wonderland—to obtain.

“Why wouldn’t he [Christie] ban them, except for the fact that the first Republican presidential caucus is in Iowa?” S.1921’s sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak, told me at the time. “He has no values. His only value is himself.” He repeated it again, slowly: “He has no valuesHe has no moral compass whatsoever.”

A year later, Lesniak is back with another bill to ban the crates—S.998…Per Christie’s complaint, the new bill defers to the Department of Agriculture, and simply asks that breeding sows be able to move in their crates—not that they should be able to roam freely through fields. “For us, there should be no reason for him to veto [the new bill], if he was being honest with his reason for vetoing it last year,” Dominguez said, with an eyebrow raised. “The one out that he has is that he said he had a concern, and we’ve addressed it. He has no reason to veto this bill.”

Well, maybe one: Continue reading “Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie”

The AgGag Story, Beautifully Done

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When you are a journalist, you sometimes see a story and think: “I wish I had written that.” It is the highest praise for another writer’s work, and that was exactly my reaction when I read Ted Genoways powerful and devastating investigation of the AgGag phenomenon:

Using a legal cudgel to go after critics wasn’t entirely a new tactic for agribusiness. PETA first began undercover investigations around 1981—getting video of rhesus monkeys being vivisected in a Maryland medical research lab by posing as employees—and a few legislatures responded by enacting laws to protect animal research from exposés. (Only Kansas had the foresight to expand its law to cover “livestock and domestic animals.”) Then, in 1992, when two ABC PrimeTime Live reporters shot undercover video of Food Lion workers in the Carolinas repackaging spoiled meat, Food Lion sued—not for libel, since the tapes spoke for themselves, but for fraud and trespass, because the reporters had submitted false information on their job applications. (A jury awarded $5.5 million, but an appeals court reduced it to just $2.) In 1996, at the height of the mad cow scare, the Texas Beef Group launched a two-year lawsuit against Oprah Winfreyover an episode that questioned the safety of hamburger. Recently, not only has the rhetoric heated up, but so has the coordinated legislative effort. Deeply invested in industrywide methods that a growing number of consumers find distasteful or even cruel, agribusiness has united in making sure that prying eyes literally don’t see how the sausage is made.

“If you think this is an animal welfare issue, you have missed the mark,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, who served as a representative for the whistleblowers who tipped off ABC in the Food Lion case. “This is a bigger, broader issue.” She likened activist videos to airplane black-box recorders—evidence for investigators to deconstruct and find wrongdoing. Ag gag laws, she said, don’t just interfere with workers blowing the whistle on animal abuse. “You are also stopping environmental whistleblowing; you are also stopping workers’ rights whistleblowing.” In short, “you have given power to the industry to completely self-regulate.” That should “scare the pants off” consumers concerned about where their food comes from. “It’s the consumer’s right to know, but also the employee’s right to tell. You gotta have both.”

Exactly. This is a story about animal welfare AND the first Amendment, AND democracy itself. And along the way it makes clear that abuse is both rampant and the inevitable consequence of the public lust for abundant and cheap meat.

It is hard to read this story and not come to a simple conclusion: the only ethical choice is to stop eating meat.

Undercover Factory Farm Investigations Have Impact

For anyone who thinks that taking hidden cameras into factory farms is all about fund-raising and publicity, instead of stopping cruelty, tell that to the nine workers at Wyoming Premium Farms who were fired, and the five who were just convicted of multiple accounts of animal cruelty.

Via Mercy For Animals, here’s the Wyoming Business Report:

April 11, 2013 —

WHEATLAND – Five employees from Wyoming Premium Farms have each been convicted on multiple counts of cruelty to animals after a Humane Society of the United States undercover investigation documented acts of animal abuse. The five convicted workers are: Patrick Ruckavina, Richard Pritekel, Edward Pritekel, Kali Oseland and David Bienz.

A total of nine employees were charged in late December. All were terminated from their jobs at the farm by the time charges were filed.
In addition to the five convictions, according to a deputy clerk at Platte County Circuit Court, three cases – against Kyla Adams, Jarrod Juarez and Steve Perry – are still pending.  Shawn Colson, the former assistant manager of the farm who faced seven counts of animal cruelty, is currently considering a deal offered by the court.

The abuse, which was captured on video and became a sensation on YouTube last May, led to food giant Tyson Foods severing its relationship with the farm.

The investigation documented Wyoming Premium workers kicking live piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, striking mother pigs with their fists and repeatedly and forcefully kicking them as they resisted leaving their young, among other abuses.

Mercy For Animals notes Wyoming’s unfortunately typical response to the sort of abuse depicted:
Confining pigs in gestation crates so small they can’t even turn around is so patently cruel the practice has been banned in nine US states, and nearly 50 major food providers, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, Oscar Mayer, Jimmy Dean, and Bon Appetit, have committed to ending the use of these cruel crates in their pork supply chains.

Yet, rather than improve conditions for pigs and other farmed animals, pro-factory farm legislators in Wyoming and some other states are trying to outlaw investigations that uncover cruelty to animals and other criminal activities at factory farms and slaughterhouses. These legislators don’t want to stop animal abuse; they just want to stop consumers from finding out about it.

In January, the Wyoming House of Representatives introduced House Bill 126. If passed, this bill would make it a crime to “knowingly or intentionally” record images at a factory farm without the owner’s consent, effectively outlawing the type of undercover work that led to the criminal convictions of these five workers at Wyoming Premium Farms.

Here’s the Humane Society video that led to the convictions and to Tyson’s abandonment of Wyoming Premium Farms. Yes, it is very hard to watch, but that is the point. I’d say we need more videos like it, not criminalization of the folks who have the guts to show the world what is happening behind the walls.