Animal abuse: Whose side are you on?

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Animal abuse: Whose side are you on?

Date: 
Thu, 04/28/2011

If you are an active online agriculturalist (or “agvocate” as it is termed in pro-agriculture Twitter and Facebook circles like #AgChat), you have probably realized that the New York Times and its associated editorial board is often more foe than friend. On Tuesday, the NYT editorial board gave another big finger shake towards animal agriculture.

The issue this time is proposed legislation to “make undercover investigations in factory farms, especially filming and photography, a crime,” in Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota.

The New York Times editorial begins:

Hiding the Truth about Factory Farms
A supermarket shopper buying hamburger, eggs, or milk has every reason, and every right, to wonder how they were produced. The answer, in industrial agriculture, is “behind closed doors,” and that’s how the industry wants to keep it.

You can read the full editorial at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/opinion/27wed3.html. They continue on to say that agriculture’s “big guns” are trying to “hide factory-farming conditions.”

They end with:
Factory farming confines animals in highly crowded, unnatural, and often unsanitary conditions. We need to know more about what goes on behind those closed doors, not less.

Of course, I would disagree with the use of “factory farming” and the claim of “highly crowded, unnatural and often unsanitary conditions.” But, I think the real question is, what are our goals? It seems that every check-off board, government agency, and dairy princess will tell you to get to know where your food comes from. The USDA’s latest tagline is “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

The fact of the matter is animal abuse is wrong. However, videotaping animal abuse for weeks without turning it in is also wrong. The lawmakers (and lobbyists/organizations behind them) sponsoring these bills have the right ends in mind, but the means may need to change.

Let’s say you’re videotaping a farm undercover, presumably legally. You find that the farm is doing nothing wrong, and, therefore, an animal rights group never releases your videotape. No problem, right?

The problem only comes in when the videographer witnesses something bad. The bigger problem would be if the videographer convinces workers to abuse animals. In the most recent video of animal abuse, the videographer allegedly participated in the abuse of animals, as well.

Only the legislators in those respective states know the fate of this proposed legislation. In pro-agriculture state like Iowa, it might have a chance. In most places, I would guess the bills, as written, will soon fizzle out. But let’s look at what we’re really trying to combat.

No professional livestock or crop producer wants animals or land abused. If you have humane standard operating procedures (written down) and train your employees to follow them, any undercover activist who persuades your employees to do something abusive should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The New York Times is asking for exactly what we want to give them, the opportunity for consumers to know their food. Like it or not, in this instance we’re actually all on the same team. Free speech should always trump business interests. Let’s continue to invite the public in rather than try to keep the activists out.