SACRAMENTO, Calif. – 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.
Now, 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 at 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 at a plant.
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 unveiled this 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 an infraction punishable by a fine.
In Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania it would be a crime to make videos at agricultural operations.
The goal of the proposed California law, industry representatives say, is to halt any abuses quickly and get video evidence to government regulators within two days, not to impede undercover investigations by animal welfare groups.
Formal opposition to the California bill comes from the ASPCA, the Teamsters, the HSUS and dozens of others.
“I wish the cattlemen actually wanted to stop cruelty, not the documenting of cruelty,” said HSUS California director Jennifer Fearing. “One could think of a thousand ways for them to actually stop cruelty rather than waiting for people to make videos and turn them over.”
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