By Mark Scheerer
Nevada News Service
LAS VEGAS — Animal cruelty whistle-blowers have shot undercover video exposing illegal or unethical abuse inside factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. The meat industry is fighting back, with bills introduced in many states that would criminalize the actions of these activists.
Paul Shapiro, speaking for the Humane Society of the United States, responded, “You know that your industry has a lot to hide when it wants to make it a crime just for somebody to document what it is that you’re doing.
Food safety problems have been exposed, too, in addition to animal abuse.
Industry groups have said the bills are intended to protect farmers from activists who produce misleading videos, and that legislation of this sort promotes animal care. Most video exposes are “illicit, underhanded and manipulative,” said Emily Meredith, Animal Agriculture Alliance.
“America’s farmers are pretty fed up with the tactics that groups like this go to, to ensure that meat production is stopped in this country,” Meredith said.
Duke University law professor Jed Purdy noted that there is lot of debate about how — and if — animals should be raised for food, but lack of transparency in the industry does not help.
“It’s hard to have an intelligent debate on it if we have no clear picture of what’s going on in there,” Purdy said. “Of course, trying to keep those pictures out of public circulation is what these laws are really about.
HSUS spokesman Shapiro said employers have a legitimate interest in hiring workers who are not plotting to make undercover videos, but some of the proposed laws overreach.
“What the meat industry wants to do is to put questions on job applications that say, for example, ‘Are you affiliated with any animal welfare charity?’ If you say no, when you really are, they want to not just fire you, they want to put you in jail,” Shapiro said.
No state has passed an ag-gag law so far this year, he added. In Tennessee, the governor vetoed a similar bill after the attorney general called it “constitutionally suspect.