Bills seek end to farm animal abuse videos
SACRAMENTO — An undercover video that showed California cows struggling to stand as they were prodded to slaughter by forklifts led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant's closure and criminal convictions.
In a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators across the country are introducing laws making it harder for animal welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food safety cases.
Some bills make it illegal to take photographs of a farming operation. Others make it a crime for someone such as an animal welfare advocate to lie on an application to get a job.
Bills pending in California, Nebraska and Tennessee require that anyone collecting evidence of abuse turn it over to law enforcement within 24 to 48 hours — which advocates say does not allow enough time to document illegal activity under federal humane handling and food safety laws.
“We believe that folks in the agriculture community and folks from some of the humane organizations share the same concerns about animal cruelty,” said Mike Zimmerman, chief of staff for Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, whose bill was introduced last week. “If there's abuse taking place, there is no sense in letting it continue so you can make a video.”
Patterson's bill, sponsored by the California Cattlemen's Association, would make failing to turn over video of abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours punishable by a fine.
Critics say the bills are an effort to deny consumers the ability to know how their food is produced.
“The meat industry's mantra is always that these are isolated cases, but the purpose of these bills is to prevent any pattern of abuse from being documented,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, which conducted the California and Vermont investigations.