In Iowa, exposing animal cruelty could be a crime

factory farmed chickensPeople don’t like animal cruelty. And they sure don’t want to eat meat that comes from animals that have been subjected to inhumane and abusive treatment.

In Iowa, they’ve found a way to solve that problem: criminalize folks who expose cruel and inhumane animal treatment. Last week the state House of Representatives passed HF 589 (pdf), and it’s poised to pass the State Senate (as SF 431) as well.

The bill, which passed 65 to 27, would make it a felony to secretly record factory farming practices. Shoot a photo of a cow, go to jail – for years.

You heard that right.

Under the bill, anyone guilty ofย  “animal facility interference,” any person who produces, possesses or distributes an audio or visual recording of an animal facility without the consent of the owner is guilty of either a class D felony or aggravated misdemeanor. So not only would taking the photo at the top of this page land you in jail, but by publishing it we’re accomplices who could be punished by jail time.

Representative Annette Sweeney, a lead sponsor, says there’s no need for exposรฉs because employees at these farmssign a code of conduct.

“Whenever youโ€™re hired in an egg facility, a hog facility, you go in and you sign a code of conduct,โ€ she says. โ€œYou say if you see anybody abusing animals, youโ€™re going to tell your employer that that person is doing that โ€” and you are bound by that code of conduct.โ€

Ah, how simple life would be…

The Iowa House is dominated by Republicans, the Senate by Democrats (just like in Washington, DC), so there’s still a chance the measure won’t pass. And if it does, the measure is blatantly unconstitutional gag on protected speech, that will probably never survive a court challenge.

Dan Hauff, investigations director for Chicago-based Mercy for Animals, said the law is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment. He said it would inhibit investigative journalists from reporting on animal cruelty, environmental hazards and food safety issues on farms. He said the organization might bring litigation if the bill becomes law, but he hoped it wouldn’t make it that far.

The executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,ย  Lucy Dalglish, called the Florida bill “flat-out unconstitutional, not to mention stupid.”

What’s the point?

That’s pretty obvious: When consumers know about animal cruelty, it hurts sales.

Those videos were coming thick and fast in recent years. If you’ve got the stomach for it, check out these graphic undercover exposรฉs from Mercy for Animals, shining an unwelcome (and very disturbing) light on Willet Dairy in New York andย Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio. If you could eat anything produced there after watching those videos, you’ve got a stronger stomach than we do.

This makes big ag unhappy. There’s no point being cruel and inhumane if there’s no profit in it. And as Martin Matheny notes at Change.org, “When we learn how it’s made,ย we suddenly tend to buy less meat.”

He points to a study (pdf) by Glynn Tonsor, who teaches agricultural economics and livestock marketing at Kansas State University, and Nicole Olynk, who teaches agricultural economics at Purdue University. They looked as far back as 1980, gauging the impact of media reports on the evils of meat production on sales.

They found:

  • Reports have been increasing, from well around 100 per year in 1999 to upwards of 1,000 in 2008
  • That increase has had an overall impact: “It is suggested that pork and poultry demand increases over the last decade would have been 2.65 percent and 5.01 percent higher, respectively if media attention in the fourth quarter of 2008 was at equivalent levels as the first quarter of 1999.”
  • “This study found increased media attention caused a reallocation of expenditures to nonmeat food rather than reallocating expenditure across competing meat products.”

The study concludes that meat producers would be “Well served by collaborating in recognizing
and responding to changing societal pressures regarding animal well-being”.

It appears that rather than responding by cleaning up their act, big ag is instead acting like a Scooby-Doo villain, concluding that “We would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you danged kids.”

-> Next page: The disease is spreading

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