Tag Archives: dairies

The people united show their power in Madison

“The people united will never be defeated,” according to a popular progressive protest chant. At least four recent victories in the Wisconsin Legislature show that “the people united” can indeed make a difference.

Since Republicans hold absolute power over Wisconsin government, it is almost a Sisyphean task to thwart GOP legislation.

So let’s recap: In recent days and months, Wisconsinites fought back successfully against several GOP-proposed laws. First was the so-called “potty bill.” It would have forced transgender people to use bathroom facilities that conform with their birth gender rather than their current gender expression. The law sparked demonstrations organized by Fair Wisconsin and other groups. It was widely ridiculed and strongly opposed by medical professionals and a number of school officials. It died.

Next, a ban on fetal tissue research lost steam after researchers complained it would have a chilling effect on developing life-saving treatments for a variety of serious physical conditions. When Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a right-wing group that largely controls the state’s Republican Party, came out against it, the bill was finished.

But there’s more. Good old-fashioned grassroots demonstrations combined with online petitions and social media also managed to stop, at least for now, some bills that seemed destined to pass. 

As the legislative session drew to a close, Republicans were overwhelmed by opposition to a law facilitating corporate takeovers of local water utilities. Assembly Bill 554, proposed on behalf of Aqua America, Inc., a private, for-profit Pennsylvania company, would have taken away the say of citizens in the control of the utilities that provide their water. 

In the wake of public outrage, the Senate abruptly dropped the bill, at least for now.

Also apparently thwarted by the power of the people was AB 450. That bill was designed to ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” in which police are prohibited from reporting undocumented workers to federal immigration authorities during their investigations of crimes.

Immigration rights supporters said without the law, people couldn’t report crimes without fear of deportation. They said that would drive undocumented workers deeper into the shadows, preventing them from attending school and seeking emergency medical help for fear of being separated from their families.

Madison, Racine and Milwaukee County are considered sanctuary cities.

Led by the group Voces de la Frontera, about 20,000 people marched on Madison on Feb. 18 to protest the proposed law in what was called “A Day Without Latinos.” Work stoppages, especially on dairy farms, caused some disruption and reminded state employers of the value of the Latino workforce. On Twitter, protesters used the hashtag #daywithoutlatinos to share images of the protest and broaden its influence.

The Senate apparently has nixed that law, at least for now, unless the chamber takes it up in early March.

Unfortunately, protesters were unable to stop a bill that would keep Milwaukee and other cities from issuing local photo IDs to the homeless, undocumented workers and others who can’t obtain state IDs — thereby allowing disenfranchised people to open checking accounts and obtain certain public benefits. That bill shutting down local ID is headed for Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.

Even in the face of losses, though, the “sanctuary city” fight against the Legislature will have lasting political value, said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz: “This battle is giving us the opportunity to build a statewide structure to organize the Latino vote that will challenge any candidate who is anti-immigrant in 2016 and beyond,” she said in a statement.

There is power in the people when we come together and take principled stands.

Our mission: To help build a strong, informed community; promote social equality and justice; support immigration and electoral reform; expose government secrets and call out political corruption; celebrate and support the arts; and foster appreciation and respect for the state’s extraordinary natural resources.

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.

How does this little piggy get to market? | What producers don’t want you to know

At any given moment at Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, California, about 200,000 ducks are living in tightly cramped pens, suffering disease, injury and starvation until they join the ranks of the million ducks the farm slaughters in a year for the food industry.

That’s a fact only known to the world at large thanks to the activist group Mercy for Animals, which in late October released “Ducks in Despair,” a secretly-filmed video that quickly went viral as viewers saw workers burning ducklings’ beaks and brutally breaking injured ducks’ necks. The images were captured by an undercover Mercy investigator working as a barn-cleaner on the farm, and also show birds being denied access to food, water and veterinary care.

Reichardt is no isolated incident. Other viral videos, filmed by Mercy and other undercover investigators, show animal abuses on farms providing dairy, eggs, beef, pork and poultry to consumers nationwide.

Videos show calves, being raised for veal, crammed into feces-covered boxes so small they cannot lie down. 

Videos show pigs being stowed in crates so small they can’t turn around, and being beaten with metal rods.

Videos show live chicks getting tossed into machines to be mashed into feed.

And here at home, a Mercy investigator released hidden-camera footage in early 2014 from Wiese Brothers Farms, a dairy farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, where workers were shown kicking, stabbing and whipping cows, even dragging downed animals around by chains attached to their legs and necks.

More recently, on Nov. 12, Mercy released an undercover video from Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, showing workers kicking and punching cows, hacking at their tails with pruning shears and dragging animals by their necks with ropes attached to tractors. The dairy was identified as a supplier to Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese companies in the country and a supplier to major grocery chains. 

“The handling of the dairy cows in this video is not acceptable,” Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert, said after reviewing the footage.

More than 80 undercover investigations have been conducted at U.S. factory farms in the past decade, resulting in dozens of videos that reveal animal abuse and real threats to food safety. And even as campaigns are launched to implement policies that can prevent such cruelty, counter-campaigns are trying to prevent undercover investigations in the first place. 

Earlier this year, the state of Idaho enacted an “ag-gag” law that criminalizes undercover investigations, making unauthorized recordings punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

The measure is not the first of its kind, and it likely will not be the last.

Model ag-gag bills have been circulated by the right-wing, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council as early as 2002. ALEC, the organization behind so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation and anti-immigrant bills, published a draft that year misleadingly titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would prohibit “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

Seven states have thus far passed ag-gag measures aimed at blocking whistleblowers from revealing abuse or unsafe conditions at livestock facilities. Advocates say farmers and livestock producers need the laws to guard against intrusions into their homes and businesses.

progressive pushback

But a broad progressive coalition has come out against the bills, with constitutional challenges pending against ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho. It is a cause that intertwines animal welfare, the environment, labor rights, free speech, freedom of the press, food safety and consumer protection.

Some 70 groups have publicly stated opposition to ag-gag laws. Plaintiffs in the federal challenge to the Idaho law include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Food Safety and Farm Sanctuary.

The law is “deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech,” says professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would even criminalize a whistleblower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

In fact, an undercover investigator punished in Idaho faces far more severe penalties than a farmworker who abuses animals. Animal cruelty in the state can result in a mere six months in jail; people caught filming abuse face up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

Those who shoot, circulate and defend the hidden-camera videos say the films do much more than shock viewers. The videos obviously can have an immediate impact on how people shop, and what they put on the dinner table. But the videos also impact how workers, farms, factories, corporations and government regulators operate.

Seven years ago, a Humane Society of the United States investigation at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California, revealed workers using forklifts and chains to push and drag cows too sick to stand to the killing floor. Much of the meat from the slaughterhouse was for the National School Lunch Program. The undercover video pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order the nation’s largest meat recall.

More recently, a Mercy for Animals investigation of an egg farm where dead chickens were rotting in cages with egg-laying hens prompted major retailers and restaurant chains to drop the supplier.

The full impact of the video from the Andrus Dairy in Wisconsin isn’t known. But quickly Great Lakes Cheese issued a statement of outrage and said it would no longer accept milk from the farm.

And Mercy’s investigation at the Wiese farm resulted in arrests and convictions of the animal abusers, as well as a corporate pledge of change. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men for animal cruelty in connection with the Wiese video, and all four were convicted on multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines.

Mercy, in statements, praised the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office for “taking swift and decisive action in pursuing justice for these abused and exploited animals.”

The organization’s efforts in that case extended far beyond Wisconsin. At the time the footage was taken, Wiese Brothers supplied cheese to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestlé. And Mercy called out the company for its association, with Mercy’s executive director Nathan Runkle saying in a news release, “No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals. Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Nestlé publicly deplored the abuse and, last January, announced changes in how it scrutinizes suppliers. “We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better,” a company statement read.

By August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had announced what Mercy called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy of its kind.”

Nestlé vowed to eliminate many of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse from its supply chain, including an end to:

• Tail docking and dehorning of dairy cattle.

• Castrating piglets without painkillers.

• Confining calves in veal crates, pregnant pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages.

Nestlé also vowed to phase out pharmaceutical growth promoters for poultry.

Runkle, in a statement, said, “We are heartened that Nestlé not only took notice, but also took action after egregious cruelty was exposed at one of its dairy suppliers. Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements.”

Opponents of the ag-gag laws say Nestlé’s response to the documented abuse at a dairy farm and to the U.S. government’s response to abuse and health and safety issues at the California slaughterhouse prove the value of whistleblowers and undercover investigations.

Still, animal welfare activists expect a dozen ag-gag bills to be introduced in state legislatures in the next two years.

On the web…

http://www.gotmisery.com

Farmers worry about fate of immigration bill

For northern Michigan fruit grower Pat McGuire, the most potent symbol of the immigration debate isn’t grainy television footage showing people slipping furtively across the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead, it’s plump red cherries and crisp apples rotting on the ground because there aren’t enough workers to pick them – a scenario that could become reality over the next couple of months.

Across Michigan’s orchard belt, cherry trees already sag under the weight of bright-red clusters, yet many trailers and wood-frame cottages that should be bustling with migrant families stand empty. McGuire is waiting to hear whether crews will show up to pick his crop in mid-July.

“We’re running out of time,” he said, pulling aside leafy branches to inspect his ripening fruit on gently sloping hillsides a mile inland from Lake Michigan.

From Christmas tree growers in the Appalachians to Wisconsin dairy farmers and producers of California’s diverse abundance of fruits and vegetables, agricultural leaders are pleading with Congress for an immigration bill that includes more lenient and less complex rules for hiring farm workers.

A measure that recently cleared the Democratic-led Senate contained provisions that the farm lobby said were promising. The Republican-controlled House is expected to take up the issue shortly. But with agriculture’s once-mighty political influence in decline as its workforce has fallen to 2 percent of the population, it’s uncertain how the industry will fare. Farmers’ complaints about a shrinking labor pool are being overshadowed by the ideologically charged issues of border security and giving legal status to people in the country illegally.

McGuire, 42, a self-described conservative who usually votes Republican, was among representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation who made their case on Capitol Hill last week. His Michigan group went to the offices of eight lawmakers and to the Senate floor, buttonholing members or their staffers.

“Each office had their party speech,” McGuire said, recalling one member’s argument about border security. But the border must already be pretty secure, McGuire said, “because we don’t have the labor in this country that we used to have.”

Michigan farmers hire about 45,000 seasonal workers in the typical year, many of them immigrants. Some of the asparagus crop was left in the field this spring because too few pickers were available.

In Wisconsin, immigrant workers make up more than 40 percent of the hired labor force at increasingly large dairy operations, according to a 2008 University of Wisconsin study. Kevin Krentz, who milks 500 cows near Berlin, said finding enough help locally is a constant struggle.

“It’s not a job that’s 9-to-5,” Krentz said. “It’s a job that’s done when the cows are fed, when the cows are milked, when the crops are harvested.”

The situation poses a test for the House GOP, said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, a trade organization that represents the fresh produce industry in California and Arizona. A Republican who held several positions in the Reagan administration, Nassif said some in the party are so concerned about illegal immigration that they’re trying to sabotage any chance for reform.

But if the House doesn’t find something it can pass, he said, voters “are going to lose complete faith in the party’s ability to legislate. All the national statistics show the American people believe in immigration reform.”

The industry insists its chronic labor shortage isn’t a matter of low pay, but too few Americans willing to deal with the long hours, hot weather and other hardships of farm labor.

“The truth is, not even farm workers are raising their children to be farm workers,” Nassif said.

The Senate bill would enable experienced farm workers already in the country but without government papers to obtain “blue cards” making them eligible for year-round residency and ultimately citizenship, on a faster path than other people here illegally. Applicants who entered the U.S. illegally would have to pay a fine, catch up on taxes and pass a background check. Another new program would allow farmers to hire foreign “guest workers” who would be issued three-year visas.

But such policies are a hard sell with House conservatives who deride the idea as “amnesty.”

Rep. Justin Amash, whose western Michigan district includes the city of Grand Rapids and outlying farm country, is typical of Republicans feeling pressure from both sides.

Home-state farmers visited his Washington, D.C., office twice last week. Mark Youngquist, an apple grower from Amash’s district, later gave one of his aides an orchard tour. During a town-hall meeting the same day, the second-term Republican described the farm labor shortage as “a problem we should deal with” and called for compromise on immigration.

But Amash’s comment that deportation wasn’t a realistic way to deal with all 11 million people believed to be in the country illegally drew angry shouts. “They’re criminals,” one man protested.

Youngquist, 53, another staunch Republican, said he wished other conservatives were more sympathetic toward immigrants who fill jobs that no one else will take. The more intense border enforcement appears to be taking its toll, he said. His migrant labor housing that is usually half-full for the approaching apple harvest is now “at zero,” he said. “We’re sitting on a beautiful crop of apples. Unless things change, none of it is going to get picked.”