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Undercover Activist Details Secret Filming of Animal Abuse & Why "Ag-Gag" Laws May Force Him to Stop

An undercover animal rights investigator who has secretly captured animal abuse on farms and slaughterhouses for the past 11 years explains how his activism faces legal threat.
 
 
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AARON MATÉ: In recent years, activists and investigators have gone undercover to reveal shocking cases of animal cruelty at some of the nation’s largest plants and farms. In many cases, they have made secret videos of the abuses, leading to prosecutions, closures, recalls and vows from the offenders to change their practices. In 2008, this undercover investigation by the Humane Society exposed wrongdoing by a California meat processor. A warning to our viewers, some of the images are very graphic.

HUMANE SOCIETY INVESTIGATION: An investigation by the Humane Society of the United States uncovers abuse of downed dairy cows, cows too sick or too injured to stand, at a California slaughterhouse. What’s more, the meat is being served to children through the National School Lunch Program.

AARON MATÉ: That undercover investigation by the Humane Society resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In the last two years, activists have also caught on camera employees of a Tyson Foods supplier in Wyoming flinging piglets into the air, workers at Bettencourt Dairies in Idaho shocking cows, and the searing of beaks off of young chicks at Sparboe Farms in Iowa. In the case of Tyson and Bettencourt, the employees were charged with cruelty to animals. In the case of Sparboe Farms, the company lost one of its biggest customers: the fast food giant McDonald’s.

AMY GOODMAN: But the videos have also sparked a reaction in the oppose direction: criminalizing those who blow the whistle. A front-page article in The New York Times this weekend noted that a dozen or so state legislatures have introduced bills that target people who covertly expose farm animal abuse. These so-called "ag-gag" bills, as they’re known, make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms or apply for a job at one without disclosing affiliations with animal rights groups. They also require activists to hand over undercover videos immediately, preventing them from publicizing findings and sparking public outcry or documenting trends.

Five states already have ag-gag laws in place. North Carolina has just become the latest state to consider such a law, joining a list that includes Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. Many of these bills have been introduced with the backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a mechanism for corporate lobbyists to help write state laws.

We’re joined by one of the activists whose undercover work has sparked their passage. The activist agreed to join us on the condition he could use a pseudonym and conceal his identity. He asked us to refer to him simply as "Pete." Pete is an undercover animal rights investigator who has secretly captured animal abuse on farms and slaughterhouses for the past 11 years. He has released footage to groups such as Mercy for Animals, helping spark national outcry and charges against the abusers. His investigations have led to at least 15 criminal cases, and his videos have been used in a number of documentaries.

Pete, we welcome you to  Democracy Now! Can you talk about what it is that you do?

PETE: Sure. Thank you for having me.

What I do is go undercover to work for an extended period of time, maybe two weeks, maybe longer, maybe six weeks or so, at farms, ranches and slaughterhouses. And the main thing that I do is focus on any and all criminal activity that exists at a facility. So, an undercover investigator’s job is to show everything that occurs, whether it’s legal or illegal. There’s a lot of standard practices that may look cruel, but they’re legal. And that is up to a campaigns department and lobbyists and the public to decide if they want to change that.

 
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