- In a news cycle dominated by the permanent "war
on terrorism" and the crisis in the Middle East, this story is an
exception. It comes to you from the Midwest -- Illinois to be exact. It's
a story about factory farms and how corporate interests are getting more
and more concerned that you may find out how they go about their business.
- If corporate lobbyists continue to have their way with
the Illinois state legislature, it may become as difficult to find out
the skinny on factory farming as it has been to ferret out the truth of
the Jenin refugee camp invasion or discover how many innocent civilians
have been killed by the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. The public's right
to know is under attack both at home and abroad.
- Factory farming is a business that often leaves a major
mess in its wake. If you are an activist concerned with these issues, you
can try lobbying for stricter regulations to protect the "farmed"
animals and the environment from contamination. However, owners of these
operations do not want the outside world to find out what's going on. A
few weeks back, the Illinois House took one step toward that goal, by passing
House Bill 5793. By a 118-0 vote, legislators passed a bill making it illegal
to photograph or videotape the animals on factory farms without the consent
of their owner.
- Although the Chicago Tribune reports that the bill is
"temporarily stalled" in the state Senate, where it failed to
make it out of committee in time for consideration this spring, Don Rolla
is still concerned. "The bad news," said Rolla, the executive
director of Illinois Humane PAC, "is that the idea seems likely to
come back either tacked onto other legislation in coming weeks or on its
own next fall."
- House Bill 5793 "makes it a crime to be on a farm
(or other 'animal facility') and photograph or videotape pigs or any other
animals without the consent of the owner if one's intent is to 'damage
the enterprise,'" reports the Tribune. The term "animal facilities"
is defined as anywhere an animal is "kept, housed, handled, exhibited,
bred, raised, or offered for sale or purchase." The Peoria Journal
Star claims that "the bill would prohibit state inspectors from taking
pictures to document their investigations of these farms."
- The Journal Star reports that "The stated need for
the law, according to a legislative analysis, is to protect the food supply
from terrorists.... The more plausible reason is that opponents of factory
farms have been fond of using pictures of pigs raised body to body, or
lagoons filled with sewage, to bolster their case."
- The Journal Star: "Beyond that, the law will discourage
whistleblowers who may be employed on a livestock farm, or otherwise there
legally, from photographing abuses. Such pictures have been used before
to go after violators. Opponents say people likely will be deterred from
filming farms from the public right-of-way, for fear that a broad reading
could subject them to criminal penalties."
- Industry intimidation
- Over the past several years, animal rights and family
farm activists have documented how animals are being treated on factory
farms via photos and videotape. This does not please the pork industry,
which has used "unusual tactics to intimidate its critics," writes
Christopher D. Cook in the September 1999 issue of The Progressive magazine.
- In North Carolina according to Cook, Steve Wing, an epidemiologist
at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, headed a study that found
"daily whiffs of hog factory waste appear to cause sinus problems,
excessive coughing, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea." North Carolina's
booming $1.8 billion pork industry began "pressuring Wing and his
assistant Susanne Wolf to identify the community -- and, by association,
the people -- that participated in the research." The North Carolina
Pork Council hired the Hunton & Williams law firm "to secure the
researchers records-including documents that could be used to identify
study participants who were guaranteed confidentiality."
- "If you want to document waste spillage, animal
abuse or inhumane conditions on a farm, there's no better way to do it
than with photographs," Diane Hatz, until recently head of the factory-farm
project for the New York-based Global Resource Action Center for the Environment
(GRACE), told the Chicago Tribune. "By trying to take away visuals,
this legislation is trying to take away a large portion of our ammunition."
- Don Rolla: "As part of Humane PAC's efforts to pass
legislation to bring an end to the millions of animals suffering in factory
farms, I have gathered a number of shocking videos and photos that were
taken in undercover efforts. The conditions and the cruelty they show are
horrible, and the images in these photos and videos are important for us
to have available to show the public. Such videos and photos are the only
way to document what we all know takes place on a daily basis! This would
impede undercover investigations of inhumane conditions."
- A Missouri bill, HB 1794 -- Animal Research and Production
Facilities -- has similar intentions and is currently under consideration
in the state legislature. The bill "prohibits any person from photographing,
videotaping, or otherwise obtaining images from within an animal facility
without the written consent of the facility. A person violating this provision
of the bill is guilty of a class D felony."
- On the face of it, the Illinois bill introduced in February
by state Rep. Mary K. O'Brien (D-Coal City) "seems only to remind
everyone that laws proscribing burglary, trespassing, sabotage and so on
apply also to farms," reports the Tribune. "I have no problem
with that," said Karen Hudson, a grain farmer in Peoria County who
is heading up GRACE's anti-factory-farm project in Illinois. "I'm
not a radical type who believes in vandalism."
- However, Hudson worries about the small print that has
likely gone unnoticed by Illinois House members. She claims that "the
1,100-word bill is a Trojan Horse because of a 16-word clause making unauthorized
farm photography punishable by up to 6 months in jail." That reference,
she says, "appears on page 3 in Section 10, Subsection C, paragraph
4 -- an aside buried so deep into the tedious legalese that it's a good
bet most lawmakers didn't even see it."
- Kevin Semlow, a lobbyist for the Illinois Farm Bureau,
which supports the bill, told the Chicago Tribune that the legislation
aims to prevent economic espionage. "A lot of these facilities do
high-tech biological research," Semlow said "We've had problems
with people making videos of copyrighted technologies, such as the way
feed systems work for livestock."
- What's really going on in Illinois and Missouri is an
attempt by the agribusiness giants running America's factory farms to pull
the blinds and prevent the dirty truths about their operations from getting
to consumers. Most Americans are dead set against cruelty to animals on
factory farms and the concomitant devastation of the environment, even
if it were to save them a few cents at the market.
- Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative
movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the
strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American