Moral Low Ground

Our Earth

Iowa Agribusiness & Republicans Trying to Make Secret Filming of Animal Cruelty Illegal

No way to live. (Photo: Larry Rana)

Paul McCartney famously declared that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” The horror that is factory farming must be seen to be believed, and the brave men and women who infiltrate these death factories in order to capture on video the appalling cruelty that is the rule rather than the exception deserve a standing ovation, not criminalization. But the latter is exactly what a new bill before the Iowa state House and Senate would do to those who land agricultural jobs for the purpose of recording animal mistreatment. According to the Associated Press, proposed penalties would include fines up to $7,5000 and up to five years in prison. The bill was introduced in the wake of a spate of undercover videos depicting such horrific scenes as cows being shocked, pigs being beaten and chickens being ground up alive.

“It’s very transparent what agribusiness is attempting to do here,” Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, told the AP. “They’re trying to intimidate whistleblowers and put a chill on legitimate anti-cruelty investigations. Clearly the industry feels that it has something to hide or it wouldn’t be going to these extremes and absurd lengths.”

“They’re trying to criminalize someone being an eyewitness to a crime,” said Jeff Kerr, chief lawyer at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

But those who support the bill, chief among them agribusiness and their Republican allies, want to protect what is a $24.7 billion industry in the state. “There are definitely groups out there that have an agenda that don’t want animal agriculture in business and that’s not right,” Kevin Vinchettle, CEO of the Iowa Poultry Association told the AP. “I think that some people will go a long way to do or say anything to try to make a group of people look bad.”

But the behavior of many factory farming does a fine job of making the industry look bad on its own. Many poultry hatcheries, for example, grind male chicks to death because, unlike egg-laying females, they have little value.

Some Republicans have offered up the lame excuse that the new bill will actually encourage people to report animal abuse. Citing examples of undercover anti-cruelty operatives who film abuse but don’t immediately report it, saving the footage for “publicity purposes,” Tom Shipley, a lobbyist for the Iowa Cattleman’s Association told the AP that “We believe this can help prosecute those people who, while they claim to have animals’ interests at heart, don’t really follow through and report the animal abuse– if in fact there actually is anything– immediately like they’re required to. They hang on to that information for publicity purposes.”

Republican Rep. Annette Sweeney, herself a cattle rancher, is sponsoring the bill. She claims that she thinks it will encourage people who witness animal abuse to report it. “As a livestock producer, I want people to feel if they see something going on this bill empowers them.”

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-dominated House, but its passage remains uncertain in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

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  1. FranziskaMarch 15, 2011 at 1:18 pmReply

    Unbelievable. What a step back in animal protection this would be! I hope Leonardo DaVinci was right when he said: “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”

    • Brett WilkinsMarch 15, 2011 at 2:15 pmReplyAuthor

      Unfortunately, many centuries later mankind still has not evolved to that state of mind that DaVinci envisioned. I doubt we will get there anytime soon, too.

  2. Ryne SandbergMarch 18, 2011 at 1:11 amReply

    This biblically driven idea that we can treat animals however we want while being morally justified, continues to erode the fabric of a sensible and compassionate society. How we treat animals is ultimately how we treat eachother, and you don’t have to prosecute serial killers to understand that.

  3. DominicApril 14, 2011 at 1:36 pmReply

    Ryne put it perfectly, “how we treat animals is ultimately how we treat each other”. Why do you think we still wage war on other countries? Killing is in the fiber of who we are as a species. The most amazing thing about it is that we have a choice to change that and yet we don’t. Shame on the human race for being such an inconsiderate species. All for the sake of making money.

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