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February 05, 2013

UPDATED: Report on Ag-Gag Controversy

*Editor's Note: The ABC World News and Nightline broadcasts have been rescheduled. Please check Wayne's Facebook page for updates.

ABC News will air an investigative report on two emerging trends of interest to every animal advocate and every American consumer: animal agriculture reforms driven by undercover investigations conducted by The HSUS and other animal welfare groups, and attempts by state lawmakers to stifle or even criminalize these investigations.*

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The HSUS

The HSUS’ look into the workings of the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in 2008 in Chino, Calif., is our most famous investigation; resulting in the prosecution of several workers and an unprecedented fine against the owners, the largest meat recall in U.S. history, and President Obama’s federal ban on downer cattle in the food supply. In 2009, The HSUS’ whistleblowing investigation of callous animal cruelty at a Vermont slaughter plant led to its closure and a felony criminal conviction. A series of investigations in 2010 at battery cage confinement facilities vividly dramatized the inherent animal welfare problems in these systems. And in 2012, our investigation of Wyoming Premium Farms resulted in nine workers being charged with criminal animal cruelty.

Now, in Wyoming, rather than address the random and routine abuses we documented at the Wyoming Premium plant, state lawmakers are trying to make it a crime to conduct an investigation like we did. Lawmakers in Iowa and Utah passed similar measures last year. In all, we may see more than a dozen states considering such legislation this year. Agribusiness interests are even seeking to make criminals out of whistleblowing employees by prohibiting them from exposing animal cruelty, food safety violations, and poor working conditions.

Exposure of abuses in the meat industry goes back at least as far as the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which vividly described the abuse of workers and livestock in the Chicago stockyards. Today, slaughterhouse workers have the highest occupational turn-over rate in the nation, and experience some of the highest rates of workplace injuries. Roughly 1 in 6 Americans suffer from food-borne illnesses every year, with some of the food contamination happening on farms (both animal and plant farms). And there are billions of animals caught up in food production systems where they are viewed as commodities, making callous treatment routine. Does this sound like a cluster of industries that do not need oversight, especially given the nagging concern that the USDA has leaned more in the direction of promoter than regulator of the meat industry?

If there are no problems on factory farms or slaughter plants, then the proprietors have nothing to worry about. I myself walked through the dairy operations at Fair Oak Farms in Indiana, like tens of thousands of people do every year. The owner set up the plant to show off modern, industrial techniques. There was no ban on picture taking or videos, because the owner of the place oversees a sound animal-care program and does not tolerate abusive practices like tail-docking. Meat industry consultant and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin says that these “ag-gag” measures are some of the wrong-headed proposals ever to come out of the minds of leaders of the meat industry.

Had these types of laws existed in California, Vermont, or Wyoming, the crimes being perpetrated would never have been revealed. We would not have a downer law, we wouldn’t have pending legislation to ban barren battery cages, and we would not have corporate reforms related to gestation crates. Who knows how many Americans would have ended up sick but for the push we’ve made for animal agriculture operators and slaughter plants to run their operations more carefully.

Join the movement to stop pending anti-whistleblower bills and turn back laws already on the books.

Watch our video: Ag-Gag Anti-Whistleblower Bills: Keeping Americans in the Dark



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