Inside Story America

Legalising animal abuse?

How new laws in the US are threatening activists’ ability to uncover appalling treatment of animals.

” There is a difference between saying that a video has been edited, to condense it to a few minutes, to present on YouTube.. [and] it’s a different thing entirely to allege that these videos have been doctored, manipulated or manufactured, which is what the industry seems to be saying right now, there is no evidence of this …”   

– Will Potter, an independent journalist and an author 

Covert video has exposed the cruel treatment of animals in some factory farms in the United States but in several US states it is those who expose abusive practices that could end up being punished.

Animal rights activists say new laws being enacted in several US states are threatening their ability to uncover cases of appalling treatment of livestock.

In many instances, undercover videos have led to the prosecution and conviction of animal abusers. 

In 2011, the Humane Society released a video exposing workers using an illegal method of training horses known as “soring”.

The workers at a training facility used chemicals to burn the legs of horses in order to force them to walk with a high step in competitions. It also showed trainers striking horses in the head among other abuses. This video led federal prosecutors to charge and convict the perpetrators.

But now, in several states, it is the whistleblowers themselves who could now be pursued under legislation being proposed that would make it illegal to covertly videotape conditions at farms, or to work undercover.

We are very disassociated from our food supply, and one of the things that we are trying to do within the animal welfare movement is to connect people to their food and to really say: ok this is happening in some rural outpost, whether it’s the production or the slaughter, but you have a moral duty to see what’s going on with these animals.

– Wayne Pacelle, resident and CEO, The Humane Society 

The legislation called Ag-Gag bills by campaigners, is often based on a template drawn up by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a conservative group that brings together big business and politicians to formulate laws favourable to right wing and corporate interests.

ALEC had a hand in Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” gun law and voter ID regulations in various states.

Activists say the legislation is part of a sustained campaign against animal and environmental activists led by corporations and the politicians they support.

A few years ago a senior FBI official named what he called ‘eco-terrorism’ as the number one domestic terror threat – a term that now appears to encompass non-violent civil disobedience by those simply concerned about the environment and cruelty to animals.

So, are the priorities of legislators too aligned with big business? And can the Ag-Gag laws really stop animal activists? 

Inside Story Americas , with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Emily Meredith, the director of communications at the Animal Agriculture Alliance;  Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection group; and Will Potter, an independent journalist and author of the book Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.

” Well the farm protection legislation is really important, because it protects the farm owners … the farm families who work [in] those farms …and it protects the animal agriculture industry as a whole.”

“Of course no one in the industry, none of these family condone any sort of animal abuse. But this farm protection legislation has really derived from a need for farm families to have a recourse against these activist groups who are really portraying them in a false light, and using these videos as fund raising campaigns, rather to really collaborate with the industry and make improvements.”

– Emely Meredith, director of communications at the Animal Agriculture Alliance