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How Big Agribusiness is Trying to Muzzle the Animal Rights Activists Who Infiltrate Their Factory Farms

“Ag-gag” laws have been passed that prohibit things like taking a farm job undercover.
 
 
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For years, animal rights activists have secretly taken on jobs at factory farms to expose the awful conditions animals live in.  While the infiltrations still go on today, big agribusiness is trying to crush activists’ ability to go inside their farms.  

Rolling Stone’s Paul Solotaroff has a deep, investigative piece about the animal rights activists who go into the hellish farms where animals are beaten and tortured before being slaughtered for food.  

One focus of his piece is on the activists who work for the Humane Society of the United States, which has been responsible for exposing many abuses in the farming industry.  Two years ago, one activist called Sarah--not her real name--infiltrated Wyoming Premium Farms, where the dozen or so workers tended to 1,000 pigs each.  Employees would quit the company routinely.  Morale was low, and workers took it out on pigs.

“The workers were so stressed that they beat the sows during the weaning process and moved ’em back to the breeding barn,” Sarah told the Rolling Stone. “Some moms would resist and these guys would just pounce, three or four kicking and punching a sow at once. My first day there, I saw a sow break her leg trying to get back to her young. They shoved her into an alley and left her for a week before someone put a bolt in her head.” She taped the abuses.  Eventually, nine workers were charged with animal cruelty and lost their jobs. Five were placed on probation.  But the most important part of Sarah’s case was linking the Wyoming farm to Tyson Foods, a big, well-known firm. They owned a company that did business with the farm, and then said they were cutting ties with Premium Farms.

Agribusiness giants now want to halt the ability of activists to infiltrate places like Premium Farms. In three states, so-called “ag-gag” laws have been passed that prohibit things like taking a farm job undercover; apply for such a job without disclosing you’re a journalist or activist; or holding evidence for more than two days without turning it over to the government. Federal and state laws are notoriously weak when it comes to protecting animals in factory farms, and the Humane Society is doing the work that federal regulators should be doing.  But the “ag-gag” laws would stop animal rights activists’ work in their tracks.

Big agricultural firms are pushing for these laws as a way to battle animal rights measures like those passed in California in 2008.  They may have lost in California, but they’re spending big in other states to pass “ag-gag” laws.

“They say we’re out to end hunting, we’re out to end farming, we’re here to make people wear hemp shoes,” said Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society. “Well, no, we’re not PETA or Mercy for Animals, but we do stand up for livestock – the 8 billion chickens raised in filthy cages, the tens of millions of pigs in tiny crates. Somebody has to speak out for them.”

 

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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