Activism? Or is it the T word?


You know all those horrible but eye-opening videos you’ve seen about animal treatment in factory farms? Well it appears that those videos actually lead to “economic hardship” for the enterprises they expose. Hmm, go figure. When Mercy For Animals shows the way Sparboro Farms abuses chicks and chickens, guess what happens? Major purchasers pull their support, regular people hear all about it on Facebook, celebrities begin to speak out, and pretty soon you’ve got a lot less people eating Sparboro eggs.

But instead of hailing Mercy For Animals for doing their regulatory duty for them, the government has suggested that MFA’s undercover videotaping may actually qualify the animal rights organization as terrorists.  At least an FBI document acquired through the FOIA sure suggests that. It was written by an FBI agent and states that actions such as undercover videotaping violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act which was supposed to defend against property damage like burning down buildings or freeing entire groups of laboratory animals. One of the accused said, ““It is…sobering to realize the supposedly terroristic activities in question are merely exposing the horrific cruelty of factory farms, educating the public about what goes on behind those closed doors, and openly rescuing a few animals from one of those farms as an act of civil disobedience.”

Indeed, this threat of terrorism charges for undercover videotaping is disturbing to me for two reasons. First, because when an injustice is being done, I feel it is sometimes the duty of the people to speak up against it…namely, when the powers that be will not. If I were to ever see injustice at my workplace, you bet I would try to capture that on tape for evidence. These animals live in disgusting, debilitating conditions; they are injured, neglected and denied any semblance of natural animal behaviors. Then they are often slaughtered in ways that defy regulations not to mention moral decency. When someone delivers evidence of this so that legal and social intervention can happen, while at the same time doing no harm to people or property, I can’t fathom calling them a terrorism. It is standing up for what is right. If we trusted politicians and regulatory agencies to raise their voice for what is good and decent (and thank goodness for those that do!) then we wouldn’t have to be peering through the crack in the wall to see what is really happening behind closed doors.

Secondly, these charges are nothing to take lightly considering the recent, mind-blowing passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 under which the President can indefinitely detain American citizens without trial. I see the privacy rights of American citizens decreased, while the threat of arrest for demanding more transparency from government and corporations increased, and this is frightening. This is not my area of expertise, but a pattern of chipping away at privacy sure seems obvious when you look at the facts. More and more it seems like the message is: We can watch you, but don’t you dare watch us.

I personally have had my life drastically changed by the kinds of videos put out by Mercy For Animals and PETA. I want to know what I’m eating, supporting, buying into, falling for. In fact, I believe this is my right. My abilities for compassion and for standing up against what I think is wrong have been greatly bolstered by watching atrocities shown in these clips. It’s hard and heartbreaking to find out what is really inside our grocery or shopping bags sometimes but we all have the opportunity to educate ourselves and then change our selections. I wouldn’t want to live in a place where that transformation couldn’t take place.

What do you think about these videos? What do you think about the National Defense Authorization Act and the war on terror? These are interesting times. Let’s talk.

Which Little Piggy Goes to Market?

UPDATE: In January the Supreme Court overturned California’s law for the humane treatment of downed hogs (and other animals) being slaughtered for human consumption. Meanwhile, Gary Ackerman (D-NY) has again proposed a bill to Congress that would put in place stricter federal legislation regarding downed animals. His proposal would permanently forbid downed animals from entering our food supply and allow them humane euthanization.


The other night, I planned on attending a lecture at the UCLA campus on the topic of Farmed Animals and the Law. The speaker was Compassion Over Killing’s General Counsel Cheryl Leahy. The topic interested me in light of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling regarding California’s slaughter methods for farmed animals. This case is being closely watched by animal rights groups and California citizens concerned about what goes on in their state. The story of the case goes like this…

In 2008 California passed legislation called the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). One important change that the HMSA brought to California food production was that downed pigs (and other livestock) could not be assigned into the slaughter line. A “downed” pig (or goat, or sheep, or cow) is one that is so sick or injured that it is non-ambulatory. According to federal standards, although these animals can’t walk they can still be included in our food systems. Of course a non-ambulatory animal must be dragged, forklifted or torturously “prompted” in order to get them to the final line.  The US government has said NO to putting downed cattle into our food. California residents decided that wasn’t enough. They have said NO to downed pigs, sheep, and other livestock as well.  They decided that no downer animals can be added to the food system and must be euthanized on the spot. This puts pressure (rightfully so!) on transport procedures, daily care, and veterinary care standards.

Now the pork industry is arguing that California cannot require slaughterhouses to adopt euthanasia procedures since there is no federal law mandating it. The case, National Meat Association vs. Harris, has gone to the Supreme Court. Arguments have been made and it is expected that a decision will be delivered in the next few months.  This case raises questions not only of animal welfare, but also of states’ rights.  In fact, this is the first time in my adult life when I feel like I grasp what is meant by states’ rights. As a resident of California, it pisses me off that the federal government might come in and crush the efforts that this state has made toward more humane food production. Perhaps I wouldn’t be if I didn’t unwaveringly believe that the pork industry lobbyists are playing puppeteer in this scenario in order to protect their bottom line no matter the suffering that upholds it.

Ultimately, I don’t want anyone to eat a pig. But millions—oh, let me be specific…one hundred thirteen million—pigs are killed each year in the United States by the huge pork industries (of which there are just 4 main players, go figure) in horrific conditions after living their short lives in crammed enclosures and terrifying transport trailers. Every small step, every bit of compassion that these exploited animals can receive is worth hoping for and fighting for.

I was eager to hear what Cheryl Leahy expected the outcome of this case to be. Alas, Los Angeles traffic got the better of me. As I sat on Wilshire, just a mile away from campus yet going nowhere, I came to my own prediction that California has a slim chance of winning this case. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, but realistic. Lobbyists for the meat and dairy industries are so powerful that it makes for a David and Goliath battle every time someone goes up against them.  In the Occupy Wall Street declaration and manifesto, one grievance against corporations is that they, “have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.” Bingo. But there’s a second “Bingo.” And that is in OWS’s concluding remarks where they incite citizens to “create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.”

This brings me to the question that many of posts will most likely end with: What can I do? First of all, I will certainly post an update on the case as soon as I hear of it. Second, I will continue to NOT eat meat as long as the status quo system of factory farming and CAFO’s is as grotesque and amoral as I believe them it to be. Third, I will continue to encourage others to do the same. And who knows…it might just be time to write another petition!

Stay tuned…