Ag-gag laws: Keeping cruelty mum

Another investigation into a pig breeding facility was announced today. This time, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing was the group behind the exposé. Among the group’s findings were:

  • Poorly performed castrations that resulted in herniated intestines
  • Workers pushing the herniated intestines back inside the piglets, then wrapping the area with tape
  • Countless sick or injured piglets left to suffer without veterinary care, many of whom later died
  • Sows languishing with uterine prolapses and later dying
  • Forced cannibalism: intestines from dead piglets are pulled out and turned into “gruel” to feed back to pigs
  • Layers of feces caked on the floor of crates and filthy, fly-infested conditions

The investigation revealed the routine suffering mother pigs endure when confined to cages where they can’t even turn around for months on end, like one whose hooves had become so overgrown she could hardly walk.

The type of footage COK documented is the very footage that animal agribusiness doesn’t want consumers to see. They know most people are horrified to see footage of intelligent, sensitive animals lined up like parked cars and unable to engage in important natural behaviors. That’s why several states now have introduced so-called “ag-gag” laws.

Ag-gag laws proposed in Iowa, where the COK investigation was conducted, as well as Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, and most recently Utah would make it a crime to take photos or videos of a farm without permission from the owners. Some of the bills would even make it illegal to possess the video footage.

Undercover investigations done by groups like The Humane Society of the United States have resulted in findings that have helped curb potential threats to public health. For example, one investigation The HSUS conducted at a slaughter plant that provided meat to the USDA school lunch program documented workers shoving, kicking, and even using a forklift to try to get former dairy cows who were too sick or injured to stand up to walk to their deaths. This spurred the largest meat recall in U.S. history and led to a new federal policy banning the slaughter of “downer” cows.

The bills are opposed by animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and constitutional rights organization. Who supports them? The people who don’t want you to see where your meat, milk, and eggs come from.

Check out this map of undercover investigations and ag-gag laws from If you live in a state where ag-gag laws have been proposed, contact your legislators and ask them to protect animals and food safety by voting against the bills.

Butterball’s cruelty to turkeys exposed

Today animal protection organization Mercy for Animals released the results of its latest undercover investigation, this time of a Butterball turkey factory farm in North Carolina. This investigation, like every previous investigation released on a factory farm, revealed horrific cruelty to animals.

Factory farmed turkeys, unlike their wild counterparts, are bred for quick growth. They grow so large, so quickly that their legs often can’t even withstand the weight of their own bodies. Some suffer crippling leg disorders, others die an early death from a heart attack. To pay for veterinary treatment would exceed these animals’ deemed worth, so birds who are injured or ill are usually left to die slow, painful deaths.

In addition to this type of routine negligence, workers also deliberately handled the animals at this factory farm violently, kicking, stomping on, and throwing them. According to Mercy For Animals, some of the undercover footage taken at Butterball documented:

• Workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management;

• Employees bashing in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries;

• Turkeys covered in flies, living in their own waste, unable to access food or water and suffering from severe feather loss and necrotic (dead) muscles and skin;

• Birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones; and

• Severely injured turkeys, unable to stand up or walk, left to die without any veterinary care, because treating sick or injured birds was too costly and time consuming, as the farm manager explained to MFA’s investigator.

Law enforcement in Hoke County, North Carolina has reportedly raided the facility and opened an investigation.

The exposé by Mercy For Animals comes at a critical time. Hidden camera investigations done by animal protection groups and other whistleblowers offer a window into factory farming that most people would otherwise not access. They have resulted in animal cruelty charges, corporate policy changes, and food recalls—keeping unsafe foods out of our nation’s supply chain.

Rather than voluntary industry-wide reforms to improve animal welfare and food safety, big ag is fighting back by trying to criminalize taking undercover investigative footage on factory farms. Four such “ag gag” bills – in Minnesota, Florida, New York, and Iowa – were introduced in 2011 and summarily died. These laws were meant to impose criminal penalties for anyone creating audio or visual recordings of agricultural operations. Not only could the individuals responsible for taking the footage be prosecuted, but the bills were also written to impose criminal penalties upon any media that transmitted the footage. Florida Senator Jim Norman has reintroduced such a bill in Florida for the next legislative session.

Such tactics are thinly veiled: rather than changing practices that most Americans are opposed to, like cramming hens in tiny cages, breeding pigs in crates so small they can’t even turn around, or performing routine mutilations on animals without a drop of painkiller, the industry wants to shoot the messenger. We all deserve to know where our food comes from and whether we support the types of conditions in which it is produced.

With one day left to donate in 2011, I highly encourage individuals who care about animals to support Mercy For Animals. The organization continuously comes through for animals, pulling back the curtain on their abusers and getting real results.