Lowdown on the farm
Animal advocates weigh in on “ag-gag” legislation
Daisy, Matt and Atlas are BFFs. When Daisy wants to go for a swim, Matt and Atlas waddle off behind her. When Matt wants to take a nap in the sun, Daisy and Atlas are by his side.
“They’re inseparable. I’ve never seen one without the other two right behind,” said Tara Oresick, shelter director at Orland’s Farm Sanctuary. “We see that often with animals that were rescued together.”
Oresick went on to tell a story about how a few weeks ago she went in to administer medication to all the ducks and geese on the property. She approached Daisy with a pill and the bigger of her two male companions, Matt, was right up in Oresick’s face until she finished.
“Animals are really amazing when you look at the bonds they form,” Oresick continued. “I’m not surprised those three are so tight.”
But despite their lavish lifestyle of today, Daisy, Matt and Atlas are survivors. They arrived at Farm Sanctuary as ducklings after an undercover investigation by Los Angeles- and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Compassion Over Killing (COK) revealed abusive and neglectful conditions at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries Inc. Video footage taken during the investigation at the Santa Cruz business shows live ducklings and chicks being tossed across the room, others crushed by machinery and one particularly sad creature left to drown in a bucket of filth.
The graphic footage (go to www.tinyurl.com/hatcheryinvestigation to see video), taken over several weeks in 2009, was turned over to the Santa Cruz Animal Services Division, which conducted its own investigation and found corroborating evidence of abuse and ultimately impounded 88 ducklings, including those now living at Farm Sanctuary. The video was used in court and led to the closure of the hatchery and the owner agreeing to not work with animals for five years.
Recently, however, animal-welfare investigations, such as the one that shut down Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, were put in jeopardy in California by an Assembly Bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno).
AB 343, dubbed an “ag-gag” bill by animal-rights activists, would have made it mandatory for anyone with photo or video evidence of animal cruelty to turn that evidence over to law enforcement within 120 hours, which opponents argued would have effectively halted serious investigations into animal abuse, particularly those at factory farms.
The bill was pulled suddenly last Thursday, April 17, by its author, but as animal advocates point out, there are similar ag-gag bills surfacing around the nation.
“The goal of the legislation is to hide cruelty to animals from the public,” said Bruce Friedrich, director of advocacy for Farm Sanctuary. “There have been dozens of investigations over the years that have revealed shocking cruelty. These laws are a reaction to the undercover investigations.”
Friedrich, who works out of the organization’s Washington, D.C., office, was referring to AB 343 as well as similar legislation that’s already been passed or is currently being reviewed in nearly a dozen other states. Some bills call for a complete ban on the use of recording devices inside factory farms or make it illegal for animal-rights activists to lie on applications for jobs at these facilities.
The Humane Society of the United States led the charge against AB 343, followed by other animal-welfare groups such as Farm Sanctuary and COK.
“Oftentimes what happens with these bill sponsors is the anti-animal forces convince them that the bill is pro-animal,” said Friedrich. “All we have to do is have a conversation with them about what the real effects of the legislation will be.”
Proponents of such legislation—including California state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) and Assemblyman Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), who co-authored AB 343—argue that they have the animals’ best interests at heart. By alerting law enforcement immediately upon gathering evidence, fewer animals will be hurt while an investigation goes forward, they say.
“My intention with this bill was—and remains to be—the prevention of animal cruelty,” AB 343 author Patterson said in a press statement. “The chair of the Agriculture Committee, myself and the California Cattlemen’s Association have agreed to hold a hearing in the future to discuss how we can move forward our goals of a safe food supply, strong agricultural industry and the humane treatment of livestock.”
Opponents of ag-gag laws counter that giving up evidence after just a few days allows farms to get off with a slap on the wrist when something much bigger might be warranted.
“We are greatly concerned about these ag-gag laws being introduced nationwide, because they have one goal in mind—to shut down undercover investigations like the one we conducted at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries,” said Erica Meier, COK’s executive director.
“Nobody is going to do an undercover investigation that will result in a slap on the wrist,” Friedrich added.
Back at Farm Sanctuary, Daisy, Matt and Atlas enjoy each others’ company and the freedom to roam, but Daisy’s deformed bill is a painful reminder.
“The ducks that we have here, they’re so happy, they’re loving life,” Oresick said. “Had that undercover investigation not happened, none of them would have gotten out.”
Meier agreed, explaining that just a few days’ worth of video would have shown abuse, but not the pattern of abuse critical to her organization’s court case.
“The goal of these bills is to prevent people from seeing what’s going on inside these farms, how food is being produced in this country,” Meier said.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” said Friedrich. “When they see the abuse that is endemic on major farms, more and more people withdraw their support. With ag-gag legislation, education decreases, and fewer people will be making informed decisions. That is a part of the reason that the ACLU and other free-speech and journalist groups oppose it.”