Tag Archives: animal abuse

Judge weighing Utah law banning undercover farm filming

A federal judge is considering whether a Utah ban on hidden cameras at slaughterhouses that was passed amid a wave of similar measures around the country violates the right to freedom of speech.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby said he’s spent hours considering the issues raised by the case, including the balance between private property rights and the First Amendment.

Animal activists argue the law is an unconstitutional attempt to keep them from exposing inhumane or unsafe practices at factory farms. The state of Utah contends the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to enter private property under false pretenses and record however they want.

“I don’t think there’s a constitutional right to spy,” said Kyle Kaiser with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The law makes farm facilities safer by barring unskilled undercover operatives, he said.

Shelby questioned both sides closely. He asked whether there’s any evidence of activities asking activists seriously disturbing safety at farm facilities, and Kaiser conceded there was none.

On the other side, the judge asked activists whether business competitors, for example, should be able to plant recording devices to steal trade secrets. Lawyer Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund said corporate espionage wouldn’t pass legal muster and property owners do have the right to remove someone caught with a camera. But it’s different when the state gets involved, he said.

“What we’re trying to protect against is a government motive to silence speech,” Liebman said. The Utah law was part of national push to stop embarrassing videos from animal-rights groups, not agricultural safety, he said.

The hearing came after a judge in Idaho found a similar law violates the First Amendment _ a win for activists that they’re aiming to repeat in eight states with similar rules.

Idaho is appealing that ruling.

At least five people have been charged under the Utah law since it was passed in 2012, though those cases have since been dropped.

Four were animal activists from California who were cited outside a large Iron County hog farm in 2015. The charges were later dropped because the farm didn’t want to pursue them.

A woman who once faced a misdemeanor count after being accused of filming a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside a slaughterhouse in 2013 is a plaintiff in the case challenging the law, along with Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Media groups have also joined the lawsuit, saying the law violates the First Amendment.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and other groups have lined up to support the state.

Film questions brutal Canadian tradition of clubbing baby seals to death

It’s a hard movie to watch: Hunters clubbing baby seals to death and bloodying the otherwise pristine ice of the Canadian Arctic.

But for the Cape Cod-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, Huntwatch, a new documentary about the fight to end commercial seal hunts, is a story that needs to be told.

The film, which premieres next month on Discovery, very nearly was doomed to oblivion. It includes grainy footage that had languished for nearly five decades in the basement of the group’s global headquarters in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.

“We really just want people to watch the film, look at all sides of the issue, and decide if this hunt still should be happening,” said IFAW spokeswoman Kerry Branon, a co-producer on the film.

Indigenous people still harvest seals for food in Canada, but the bloody slaughters chronicled in Huntwatch involve white hunters looking to cash in on the pelts of young harp seals.

Despite long-standing bans on the trade in fur and other seal products strictly enforced by the U.S., the European Union and much of the rest of the world, Canada still subsidizes the shockingly brutal annual hunt. Animal rights groups are still pressuring the Canadian government to phase out the practice, which was the Cape Cod organization’s founding campaign.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans won’t budge, spokesman Frank Stanek told The Associated Press.

“The government of Canada believes in the sustainable use of a renewable resource such as the harp seal,” Stanek said, calling the harvest “an important economic and cultural activity.” He said officials are “committed to maintaining (the few) existing markets for Canadian seal products and supporting the development of potential new markets.”

IFAW’s Richard Moos, who co-produced the film with Branon, said the seal slaughter ought to have ceased for good many decades ago for the same reason that ended whaling at the turn of the 19th century: There’s no longer a viable market for it.

But old traditions, even gory ones that reflect Middle Age sensibilities more than modern ones, die hard.

Huntwatch is directed by renowned animal rights activist Brant Backlund and narrated by actor Ryan Reynolds, a Canadian. It was screened earlier this year at film festivals in New York; Boulder, Colorado; Newport Beach, California; and Middlebury, Vermont.

Discovery and Lionsgate plan to distribute it internationally, starting with a limited theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles and its premier on Discovery at 10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22.

“From the get-go, I wanted to make sure the film didn’t feel like a one-sided propaganda piece,” Backlund said in a statement. “The Canadian seal hunt is a very complicated issue with no easy answer.”

Another challenge: Toning down the gore.

“Some of the footage in our archive is incredibly disturbing, so we had to find a way to make the film watchable,” he said. “We worked very hard at finding lighter moments and human drama, trying to focus in on the characters to tell the story of their experiences around the seal hunt.”

Huntwatch was culled from more than 3,000 film reels, tapes and photographs in various formats dating to 1969 that documented the Canadian hunts. Branon and Moos found much of it in the cellar around 2009 as they were consolidating their archives on Cape Cod.

“We want to start a conversation,” Moos said. “Things are changing. People are waking up.”

Online: https://vimeo.com/136239742

Rob Gillies contributed from Toronto.

 

American attitudes toward animals are shifting

Ever since WiG added a pet section last year, countless stories have come to our attention demonstrating the surprising lengths that Americans go to care for their furry friends. At a time when senseless violence dominates the news, greed overwhelms our society and hateful, divisive rhetoric guides our political process, these stories remind us that the human heart still beats strong.

The manner in which people treat animals says a lot about them. Psychologists have discovered a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and a predisposition for violence toward people, marking them as a threat to society.

Although most animal abuse cases go unreported, those that do come to public attention face increasingly harsh penalties. Before 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws on their books. Today, all 50 states have such laws, although punishments vary greatly in severity.

In addition to concern about their pets, a growing number of people are also questioning the treatment of the domesticated animals we eat. Scientists have discovered that mammals raised as food, like those bred for human companionship, possess the same levels of self-awareness, intelligence, personalities and emotions that pets do. That’s an uncomfortable thing for people who enjoy a pork chop or a steak to consider.

Until very recently the treatment of “farmed” animals was largely overlooked. A growing number of revelations about the brutal, torturous conditions under which factory farm animals suffer, however, has made it all but impossible to ignore the cruelty any longer.

Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.”  Posing as slaughterhouse workers, members of groups such as Mercy for Animals have made and released numerous videos of the heinous abuse that awaits factory farm animals at the end of their miserable lives. They’ve lifted the curtains.

In response, Big Ag has given money to lawmakers to introduce so-called “ag-gag” bills that make it a crime to video or photograph abuse. Eight states have enacted such laws, but a federal judge struck down a bill in Idaho, raising First Amendment questions about all such laws.

Wisconsin Republicans planned to introduce an ag-gag law in the state last year but apparently decided to put the idea on hold.

The revelations about factory farms are changing how Americans eat. The number of vegetarians and vegans in the United States skyrocketed from 1 percent in 2009 to 5 percent — or 16 million people — last year. Raw Food World reports that roughly 42 percent of people who’ve given up consumption of animal products cite an educational film with prompting their decision. Sixty-nine percent said they chose to eat a vegan diet to support the ethical treatment of animals.

Food producers didn’t object to the cruelty, but they are responding to the shift in consumer behavior. In October, Starbucks joined McDonald’s, Unilever, Burger King, Walmart and other major food providers in setting a specific timeline to switch over to cage-free egg suppliers. Although the term “cage free” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, it’s better than the alternative.

But male chicks continue to be dumped alive into meat grinders.

Aware consumers are also influencing lawmakers. Nine states, including the agricultural behemoth California, have banned battery cages, which pile chickens together in such small quarters that many are crushed to death. States have also banned gestation crates, which confine pregnant pigs to cages so small that they can’t stand or move.

Those actions represent the start of a revolution in the way Americans think about the treatment of animals, and we urge readers to join in. Support animal welfare groups. Contact your elected officials are urge them to vote no on bills such as ag gag. Ask restaurants if they use “cage free” eggs and where they source their meat and dairy products.

As Czech writer Milan Kundera put it, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test … consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”

See also:

Majority of Ashland, Bayfield county residents oppose proposed mega hog farm

Petco drops small-animal supplier amid federal probe

Idaho appeals ruling against state’s ‘ag-gag’ law

The state of Idaho is appealing a federal court’s decision to overturn the state’s “ag-gag” law.

The law makes it a crime to videotape agriculture operations. Idaho lawmakers passed the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of weak, dying cows being beaten and stomped on at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt their business.

The vicious brutality caught on video sparked a consumer backlash, as did the images of sickly, terrified cows covered with ulcers and feces being prodded with electrical rods into slaughter tunnels.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, shot in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy.

Similar conditions have been documented in other states, including Wisconsin. Republican “pro-business” legislators in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states have either passed or tried to pass legislation similar to Utah’s in order to protect companies from public exposure of the squalid, brutal conditions under which animals are kept in factory farms/

A federal court invalidated Utah’s law in August, holding that it violates the First Amendment.

The state appealed that ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The picture shown here is known as a “death pile.” After being crammed into spaces so small they can’t move and loaded with steroids, hormones and anibiotics to make them grow, factory farm animals end up in piles like this before their parts are butchered and sold in shiny cellophane-wrapped packages on supermarket shelves. Their short lives are lived amid conditions of unimaginable brutality and squalor.

Horrific animal abuse documented at slaughterhouse that supplies Hormel

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it saw “completely unacceptable” actions depicted on an animal welfare group’s undercover video from a Minnesota slaughterhouse that supplies Hormel Foods.

Compassion Over Killing said the video shot last month at a Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin shows workers taking “inhumane shortcuts that lead to extreme suffering” to keep the slaughter lines moving. “If USDA is around they could shut us down,” one worker can be heard saying on the video.

An edited version of the video that was posted on YouTube shows workers cheering as they beat and drage pigs shaking in fear and pain as they are being slaughtered. Federal law requires livestock to be stunned before they are killed. Many pigs covered in feces and riddled with puss-filled sores are headed for the production line.

Quality Pork Processors said it has already disciplined two employees shown on the video and will take further actions if necessary. Nate Jensen, vice president of human resources and quality services at QPP, said the company was disappointed to see employees who did not appear to follow its policies requiring the humane treatment of animals.

The USDA said will investigate further if it confirms the video’s authenticity.

“The actions depicted in the video under review are completely unacceptable,” said Adam Tarr, a spokesman for the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The plant is one of a few across the country that’s testing a relatively new inspection system that involves fewer USDA inspectors and quicker processing lines.

Erica Meier, executive director of the Washington-based Compassion over Killing, blamed the system for the alleged horrific abuses, which she said included pigs being beaten, shocked, dragged and improperly stunned out of inspectors’ views, as well as animals with abscesses and covered in feces.

“By allowing facilities like Quality Pork Processors to operate at these increased slaughter speeds, combined with the reduced federal oversight, the USDA is essentially giving the industry a free pass to police itself,” Meier said on a conference call.

The USDA disputed the pro-vegetarian group’s claim that the faster inspection system was to blame. Tarr said that system is being used only farther down the production line, where carcasses are sorted.

Jensen said the company’s own video monitoring caught the two employees even before officials learned of the undercover investigation, and that the employees were given written warnings and ordered to undergo retraining. He said the company is working with the USDA, will modify its training programs as necessary and has safeguards in place to keep contaminated products out of the food supply.

Austin-based Hormel issued a statement saying it has a “zero tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals” and holds its suppliers to the same high standards. Hormel said it has reviewed the video and will work with QPP and the USDA to take “any necessary corrective action.”

Meier said her group provided the full video to the USDA on Oct. 27 and shared it with the Austin Police Department, which forwarded the information to the Mower County attorney’s office. 

No charges against farm workers shown abusing hogs

A prosecutor said that he has decided against charging any employees of a Minnesota hog farm who were recorded on a graphic undercover video treating animals in a way that their own employer called “disturbing.”

Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals released video in August that it shot at a Christensen Farms breeding facility in the southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne. At the time, the company, one of the country’s largest pork producers, said it had suspended seven employees and launched a full internal investigation. CEO Glenn Stolt said in a statement that it was “unacceptable that this behavior was allowed to continue, and was not brought to our attention immediately.”

Assistant Rock County Attorney Jeffrey Haubrich told The Associated Press on Friday that he won’t file the animal cruelty charges that Last Chance for Animals sought. In a letter to Sgt. Jeff Wienecke of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, which Haubrich provided to the AP, he said the videos are not admissible in court and that an outside veterinarian found nothing at the farm that could provide a basis for criminal charges.

“Our primary consideration is that there are substantial evidentiary issues with the material provided by Last Chance for Animals. The video and reports are obviously highly edited and filtered to enhance the position they are advocating and they lack the basic requirements for admissibility in court,” the prosecutor wrote. “Namely, there is a lack of foundation and no chain of custody for the main pieces of the evidence that have been presented.”

Haubrich also wrote that it appeared the veterinarian did not find any widespread problems at the farm or with people employed there. He found that the facilities and its methods were acceptable “within industry standards” and that “the animals appeared well cared for.”

Adam Wilson, director of investigations for Last Chance for Animals, said the group doesn’t consider the case closed and that he will write to Haubrich detailing its concerns with the decision. He said the group offered the prosecutor and detectives full unedited copies of its original recordings, and offered to make its undercover investigator available to corroborate their authenticity and other details of what the investigator witnessed, but got no reply.

“The decision was a political one — not to go after a very large corporate farming operation that’s a Minnesota company,” Wilson said. “It seems very obvious the investigation is not complete and it was not taken with the best intentions.”

The video released to the public showed sows bleeding from open sores and other injuries, including protruding organs, or lame from swollen legs. It also showed one worker repeatedly jabbing a lame sow with a pen to try to get it to move, leaving wounds on its back. The group said it recorded numerous instances of sick and severely injured sows being left to suffer for weeks.

Officials with Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms and the company’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday afternoon. Nor did an attorney for the employees, and it wasn’t immediately clear if they still work for the company.

Law banning secret filming of animal abuse ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that Idaho’s law banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities is unconstitutional, giving animal rights activists across the country hope that the decision will pave the way to overturn similar laws — known as “ag gag” laws — in other states.

U.S. Judge Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the law violates the First Amendment.

“Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored,” Winmill wrote in his 29-page ruling. “Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistleblowers from recording an agricultural facility’s operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.”

A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued the state more than a year ago, opposing the ag gag’ law. The coalition said the law curtailed freedom of speech and made gathering proof of animal abuse a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty.

According to the law, people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. By comparison, a first animal cruelty offense in Idaho is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A second offense within 10 years of the first conviction carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $7,000.

The ruling is the first in the country to deem an anti-dairy spying law unconstitutional, said Mathew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the lead attorneys on the Idaho case.

The only other similar lawsuit is in Utah, but more are likely to come after Monday’s decision, he said. Currently, eight other states have passed some sort of law against such surreptitious filming, even though many more have been introduced in state legislatures.

Wisconsin Republicans have said they plan to introduce an ag gag law here, but have yet to do so. The proposal has met with heavy backlash from the public.

“This decision vindicates the public’s rights to know how animals are treated before they become meat,” Liebman said.

Idaho lawmakers approved the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy filmed in 2012 unfairly hurt their business.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and otherwise abusing cows in 2012.

“Idaho’s lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment,” Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals, the animal rights group that released the 2012 footage, said in a statement.

Many lawmakers argued the law was needed to protect private property owners’ rights. However, Winmill countered that there are already state and federal laws on the books that protect private property against theft, fraud and trespass.

State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, who first introduced the legislation, argued back in 2014 that “This is the way you combat your enemies.” During a legislative hearing, he compared undercover investigators to terrorists and called them “marauding” invaders who use ruthless tactics to submit their foes into submission.

Patrick told The Associated Press on Monday that he was disappointed in the ruling and was still considering options on how to best move forward.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office declined comment. Spokesman Todd Dvorak said the office was reviewing the ruling.

PETA exposes abuse at monkey breeding facility in Florida

An undercover investigation by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals at a monkey breeding facility has led to a federal review at the southwest Florida business.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating a Primate Products Inc. in Hendry County, where an undercover worker found sick and injured monkeys living in inhumane and unsanitary conditions.

PETA released a video on June 1 showing conditions at the facility. PETA spokesman Dan Paden said the video was taken by a PETA employee who was hired to work undercover at the facility. PETA first gave the video exclusively to The Associated Press.

After meeting with PETA, inspectors from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service went to Primate Products Inc.

Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the USDA, said in an email to the AP that Primate Products Inc. has three weeks to appeal the USDA inspectors’ report, which won’t be made public until that process is complete.

Espinosa said that the USDA does “currently have an open investigation into this facility.”

The seven-minute video showed workers holding rhesus macaque monkeys with protruding rectal tissue by the tails. The video also purports to show monkeys in feces-covered cages, monkeys without working water dispensers, and primates with broken bones and exposed wounds. A monkey also allegedly died from hypothermia because of cold temperatures and another was injured by a bear. The monkeys are kept in outdoor cages.

“Primate Products has been awarded federal contracts worth more than $13 million of taxpayers’ money and ships monkeys to massive testing laboratories and universities,” said Dan Paden, a PETA spokesman. “Its customers, like our own National Institutes of Health, need to watch this footage and decide whether they want to continue to bankroll this cruelty and these animals’ violent capturing, pain, terror and deaths.”

Hendry County, in the southwestern part of the state near Naples and Fort Myers, is something of a mecca for primate breeding facilities. Three monkey breeding farms containing thousands of primates operate in the small, rural county and a fourth is in the works.

The companies say they’re doing nothing wrong, they’re properly permitted agricultural facilities and they’re in the area with the blessing of authorities.

In November, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Hendry County officials who approved that Primate Products Inc. could hold as many as 3,200 long-tailed macaques, a species linked to outbreaks of infectious disease. The lawsuit said Hendry County approved the controversial project behind closed doors with only the facility’s supporters present and failed to hold the public hearing required by the state’s Sunshine Law. Last week, the lawsuit was expanded to include a second farm that rents space on the property.

Thomas J. Rowell, a veterinarian and president of Primate Products Inc., told The Associated Press that “the inspection was thorough.”

“This is part of the process in which we fully cooperated,” Rowell wrote in an email. “I’m not aware of who provided the video. We welcomed the USDA’s visit. It’s good when you get the opportunity to review your operation through the eyes of others. We are always looking for opportunities to improve upon our program and appreciate the corrective actions and timelines provided by the USDA. Staff looks forward to working together with the aim of improving upon our animal welfare program.”

Primate Products uses two species of macaques from China, Cambodia, Mauritius or Vietnam. The animals are quarantined upon arriving in the United States.

Primate Products then breeds the monkeys for resale and distribution to research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and the federal government, according to a company spokesman. The monkeys sell for about $3,200 each.

Activists and residents say that the facilities shouldn’t be covered under the county’s agricultural zoning regulations. Monkeys, they say, are very different from cows or horses.

“As seen in the video, the company takes spinal fluid and blood from these wild animals, which can in no way be considered the ‘agriculture’ use that the company’s land is zoned for,” Paden said. “Hendry County can and should put an end to this cruelty and shut Primate Products down immediately.”

PETA filed a formal complaint with the USDA, asking the agency to look into alleged violations of animal welfare and protection laws.

Wal-Mart’s push on animal welfare hailed as game changer

UPDATED: Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, announced in May its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain and issued revised animal welfare policies hailed as game-changing.

Even some of the company’s harshest critics, including the watchdog group Mercy for Animals, cheered the policy change as signaling a new era.

The “Position on Farm Animal Welfare” posted on Walmart’s corporate site states, “We expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”

The statement says Walmart supports the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health:

• Freedom from hunger and thirst.

• Freedom from discomfort.

• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

• Freedom to express normal behavior.

• Freedom from fear and distress.

The company wants suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, deli, dairy and eggs to take action against animal abuse, adopt the “Five Freedoms,” avoid subjecting animals to painful procedures, such as tail docking, de-horning and castration, and to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease.

Walmart also wants suppliers to stop using pig gestations crates and other housing that confines animals to small spaces.

At the Humane Society of the United States, president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Timelines aside, this announcement helps create an economy where no agribusiness company — for business reasons alone — should ever again install a new battery cage, gestation crate or veal crate. Walmart is helping drive the transition away from immobilizing cages and other inhumane practices and toward a more humane, more sustainable approach to production agriculture.”

He continued, “This is an unstoppable trend and that was the trajectory even before Walmart made the announcement. The company’s embrace of a more ethical framework for the treatment of all farm animals serves as perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change throughout animal agriculture.”

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said, “This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America.”

Mercy has waged a multi-year campaign against Walmart — the company accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. food business. The Mercy effort has involved protests, publicity in major newspapers and on mobile billboards, celebrity denunciations and a petition via Change.org.

In recent years, Mercy has released investigative video documenting extreme animal abuse by Walmart suppliers. The videos show pigs hit with metal cans and sheets of wood and sows held in cages so small they could barely move.

Mercy, in its praise for the Walmart position statement, also emphasized its own position: The best way to prevent animal abuse is to stop eating animals.

Charting change

Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and retail companies since 2012:

• FEBRUARY 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out sow gestation stalls.

• AUGUST 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers and pledges to work with suppliers on the responsible use of antibiotics.

• DECEMBER 2014: Starbucks supports the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related to de-horning and other forms of castration — with and without anesthesia.

• MARCH 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics. 

• APRIL 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S. food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and crates for veal calves by 2017.

• APRIL 2015: Tyson Foods plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses.

— Associated Press

Opponents of ‘ag-gag’ law plead case to judge

Animal rights lawyers are asking a federal judge to strike down an Idaho law aiming to stop people from secretly filming animal abuse in the state’s agricultural facilities.

The law’s opponents asked U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill this week for a summary judgment — a fast-tracked way for a judge to rule on a lopsided case without having a full trial.

Justin Marceau from the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the statute — dubbed the “ag gag” law — stifles free speech. 

But Carl Withroe from the Idaho Attorney General’s office said that the law doesn’t hinder whistleblowers. “The statute was designed to protect private property and to protect agricultural operations, not to target journalists or would-be whistleblowers,” Withroe said.

But Marceau argued that the law was actually inspired by animus toward journalists and whistleblowers, citing comments from lawmakers during the debate.

“The state can’t just wave the wand of private property and protect any law it wants,” said Marceau, who is also backed by a coalition of food safety groups and individual rights advocates.

Winmill said he hopes to issue his ruling next week. If he rejects the arguments, the case will likely head to a full trial.

Idaho is one of seven states with ag gag legislation, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Similar litigation — also prompted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund — is currently underway in Utah.

Lawmakers passed the statute last February after a Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal-rights group called Mercy for Animals released a video showing animal abuse at one of Idaho’s largest dairies. The video of workers at Bettencourt Dairies shows workers stomping, beating, dragging and sexual abusing the cows.

But Idaho’s dairy industry says that the group used its videos to unfairly hurt Bettencourt’s business — not try to stop abuse.

Winmill already denied Idaho’s request to dismiss the lawsuit last September.

“This is really the cutting edge of the interstitial boundaries of First Amendment law,” he said. “The decision here has no politics and has no economic interests. It’s just a question of what the First Amendment means and how it should be applied.”

People convicted under the law face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.