Tag Archives: dairy farms

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.

Undercover investigation in Wisconsin prompts new animal welfare policy at Great Lakes Cheese

Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese producers in the country, on March 9 announced a new animal welfare policy that will improve the lives of thousands of cows across its dairy supply chain each year, according to the advocacy group Mercy For Animals.

The policy follows an undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals at Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin — now a former supplier to Great Lakes Cheese. The investigation exposed workers punching, kicking and beating animals, hacking off their tails with pruning shears, shooting cows in the face and nostrils with high-pressured water hoses and dragging them by their necks with ropes attached to tractors.

Great Lakes Cheese said it is now requiring its dairy suppliers nationwide to abide by new animal welfare standards. The policy mandates an end to the practice of tail docking by 2018, pain relief during disbudding or dehorning, provision of a safe, clean, and sanitary environment for cows, and proper veterinary care for sick and injured animals.

Nestle, the world’s largest food company, also announced a comprehensive commitment to improved farmed animal welfare after a hidden-camera video taken by Mercy for Animals at a Nestle dairy supplier in Wisconsin in 2013 exposed similar abuse. Nestle’s policy change affects the company’s entire global supply chain, covering more than 7,300 suppliers in 90 countries. The footage from the investigation at Wiese Brothers Farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, showed workers kicking, beating and stabbing cows and dragging “downed” cows by their fragile legs and necks using chains attached to tractors. Four farm workers were convicted of criminal animal abuse.

Mercy observed that the investigations that prompted these significant policy changes are now under attack. Wisconsin state Rep. Lee Nerison has indicated his intention to introduce an “ag-gag” bill aimed at making it a crime for undercover investigations that expose animal cruelty on farms.

Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals, said in a news release on March 9 that the organization “praises Great Lakes Cheese for taking animal welfare seriously and working toward ending some of the cruelest practices in its dairy supply chain. This policy, which includes an industry-leading commitment to eliminating tail docking within three years, will reduce the suffering of thousands of cows each year.

“While this is one of the most comprehensive animal welfare policies ever adopted by a major U.S. dairy company, we encourage Great Lakes Cheese to make this policy more meaningful by engaging third-party auditors to ensure that these standards are enforced.”

He continued, “With Great Lakes Cheese’s announcement, it’s never been clearer that the days are numbered for dairy factory farms that beat, drag, and mutilate animals without painkillers. It’s now time for Dean Foods, Land O’Lakes, and other mega dairy companies to address animal cruelty within their supply chains by implementing and enforcing similar animal welfare requirements.”

On the Web…

The Andrus Dairy video.

1 million gallons of manure spilled this year in Wisconsin

State officials say Wisconsin farms spilled more than 1 million gallons of manure this year, the greatest amount in seven years.

Manure handling is a volatile issue in Wisconsin as dairy farms grow larger.

An analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows about one-third of the spills since 2007 came from farms with 700 or more cows. Wisconsin has nearly 200 large-scale livestock operations.

State Department of Natural Resources records show the second largest volume in spills happened in 2008 when 905,000 gallons were released.

In the latest spill, 300,000 gallons of manure spilled from a ruptured pipe Nov. 24 at a facility in Dane County that uses farm waste to produce electricity. The break sent manure into Six Mile Creek.