Battery caged hens are crowded together causing excessive feather loss and chafing. Birds on lower tiers are often covered in excrement from higher tiers. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Coalition for Farm
Animals. (CNW Group/Vancouver Humane Society)
ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council -- is an organization of high flyers who prefer to sail under the radar.
The corporate-funded coalition of big companies and mainly state lawmakers promotes a right-wing agenda of deregulation, privatization, anti-labour measures and shrinking of women’s and minority rights and environmental protection. It works through “model bills” that are handily presented to legislators and replicated in viral fashion across states.
But ALEC has crossed the publicity “whoa” line in the past month as a series of articles on “ag-gag” bills were published, throwing light on prospective laws that aim to criminalize investigation of animal cruelty to keep factory farm businesses free of prying eyes. The latest, published Sunday, was from the The New York Times.
Stop reading now if you’re eating.
We’re talking about Vermont veal calves skinned alive, deathly sick California cows pushed out to slaughter with electric prods, Wyoming pigs punched and kicked, Tennessee horses burned with caustic chemicals to improve their gait.
But the evidence painstakingly obtained by animal rights groups – including the Humane Society of the U.S. – is now under threat from bills tabled in at least a dozen state legislatures.
They would make it illegal to secretly videotape animal cruelty on farms, or to apply for a job without declaring oneself a member of an animal rights group or a journalist. And some decree a 48-hour-or-less time limit for turning over videos to the authorities, hobbling the ability to do lengthy investigations.
If the ag gag laws were in place in 2010, Cody Carlson told the Center for Media and Democracy, “I might be writing this from a cell.” Carlson, a former Humane Society investigator, exposed stomach-turning abuses at Iowa egg farms. A subsequent government investigation caused the biggest egg recall in U.S. history.
That wouldn’t happen if the recent bills go into law.
Although the current bills are watered-down versions of draconian “model bills” originally proposed by ALEC -- which were eventually defeated -- media monitors and activists are pointing fingers at it as the inspiration for the laws.
“We must be careful about drawing a straight line from ALEC to the new bills,” says Rebekah Wilce, CMD’s lead writer on food rights. “But it was the ideological predecessor of the bills.”
ALEC originally proposed a law slapping those who covertly filmed animal abuse on livestock farms with a U.S. terrorist listing.
“This is another way to hamstring the checks that democracy and an informed society are supposed to put on everything from corporations to government,” Wilce said from her Madison, Wisconsin office. “It’s similar to the idea that if you can’t win an election, try to hamstring the vote.”
Sadly, cows, pigs, chickens and horses don’t get a vote in state legislatures. But it will be clear in the coming weeks what kind of animals do.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights in the U.S., former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia. She is consulting a vegetarian cookbook.