Utah’s law banning secret filming of agricultural facilities is unconstitutional and should be struck down just as Idaho’s measure was last year, argue animal welfare activists in a new court filing.
The so-called “ag-gag” law, passed in 2012, has a chilling effect on groups trying to expose unsafe and illegal practices at slaughterhouses and factory farms, said attorneys for a group of plaintiffs that include the Animal Legal Defense Team and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Utah state officials defend the ag-gag law in their own filing, saying it doesn’t violate any constitutional protections and still allows for filming from public places and for whistleblowers to report abuses. The state argues that ag-gag promotes workplace safety by barring unskilled undercover operatives from slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants.
“These illegal acts cannot be justified by the plaintiffs’ bare desire to get a story they want to tell,” wrote Kyle Kaiser of the Utah attorney general’s office.
The dueling court filings come 10 months after a federal judge ruled that Idaho’s similar law was unconstitutional, giving animal rights activists across the country hope that the decision will pave the way to overturn similar laws in other states.
U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the Idaho law violated the First Amendment, writing in the August 2015 ruling that audio and visual can vindicate a whistleblower who otherwise might not be believed.
Utah’s ag-gag law was passed amid a wave of such laws being considered around the country. Eight other states have passed some sort of law against such surreptitious filming.
No ruling is expected anytime soon in Utah’s case, which was filed nearly three years ago.
One of the plaintiffs, Amy Meyer, was arrested under the misdemeanor statute for filming a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside a Draper slaughterhouse in 2013. Charges against her were dropped because she recorded the scene from a public street.
Society needs people like Meyer because relying on slaughterhouses and meatpacking plant employees turning whistleblowers isn’t reliable, said PETA attorney Matthew Strugar writing the brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Many of these workers are undocumented or otherwise disenfranchised and are not aware of whistleblower protections,” he wrote.
Strugar argues that the measure was motivated by animosity, saying Utah’s “legislative history oozes with disdain for animal protection groups.”
The state said legislators aren’t concerned with the animal welfare groups, but rather people who go onto private property and risking the safety and security of operations underway.
“There is no broad-reaching right to enter private property illegally or under false pretenses, even if the interloper has (in his mind) a noble pursuit of doing so,” wrote Kaisel for the state.
Media groups have also joined the lawsuit, saying the law violates the First Amendment. The plaintiffs say they have three journalism experts who can testify that undercover investigations are part of the country’s “rich and celebrated journalistic history.”
“Much valuable journalism has emerged from investigations that employed subterfuge to expose wrong,” Strugar writes.
An animal rights group wants to convert the western Pennsylvania house used in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” into an empathy museum, where visitors could wear the skins of slain and abused animals.
The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says in a release that it has written to the real estate agent handling the sale and wants to create a museum. The building was home to psychotic killer Buffalo Bill in the 1991 film.
PETA says by wearing animal skins, people would be reminded that animals also are “made of flesh, blood and bone.”
Scott and Barbara Lloyd listed the Layton home for sale last summer. It’s located about 28 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The asking price dropped from $300,000 to $250,000 earlier this month.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its elephant acts a year and a half early, and will retire all of its touring elephants in May.
The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of circus elephant acts with local governments passing “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances in response to concerns over animal cruelty.
The circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, told The Associated Press exclusively that all of the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located between Orlando and Tampa.
The company announced in March that it would retire the full herd to the center by 2018. But once officials began planning details, they realized “we could actually do this a lot sooner” because building the new structures to house the retiring elephants didn’t take as long as they originally thought, said Alana Feld, Ringling’s executive vice president and show producer. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, Feld said.
Eleven elephants currently tour with the circus.
“They’ll be joining the rest of the herd,” Feld said. She’s part of the family that owns Feld Entertainment, which owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. In addition to the elephants still touring, 29 of the animals are on the property now, and two are on breeding loans to zoos, Feld said.
Animal rights groups on Monday applauded Ringling’s new timeline and announcement.
“Like the elephants themselves, it had outsized importance because of the symbolic value of the enterprise,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.”
Elephant acts have been showcased by Ringling for more than a century and have often been featured on its posters.
But because so many cities and counties have passed “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances, it became difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year, Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld said last year. Fighting legislation in each jurisdiction is expensive, he said.
Los Angeles and Oakland prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers last April. The city of Asheville, North Carolina, also nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.
Ringling’s new show will begin in July without the giant pachyderms.
“We’re looking at a lot of new ways of doing things,” Feld said.
She said the retired elephants at the CEC will also be part of cancer research.
Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals’ bodies have many more cells. That’s a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation — one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.
Compared with just one copy in humans, elephants’ cells contain 20 copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene, two teams of scientists reported in October. The gene helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances.
The findings aren’t proof that those extra p53 genes make elephants cancer-resistant, but if future research confirms it, scientists could try to develop drugs for humans that would mimic the effect.
Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah, is one of the researchers trying to find clues in the blood samples of some of the Ringling elephants.
“There’s so much to be learned from their DNA,” Feld said.
Animal rights activists have long alleged that circuses have mistreated elephants.
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.
On Monday, Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called on Ringling to end all animal acts and that “vigilance will be needed to determine how they are treated” at the Florida sanctuary.
Elephants have been a symbol of the Ringling circus for decades. P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
British fashion designer Stella McCartney says she’ll stop using wool from an Argentine supplier amid concerns about the treatment of sheep.
McCartney, whose brand doesn’t use leather, fur or animal skin, says in an Instagram post that she will no longer use wool from Ovis 21 after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video showing the alleged mistreatment of sheep.
McCartney says only one of 26 ranches used by Ovis 21 was involved, but that “is one too many.”
“I am devastated by the news but more determined than ever to fight for animal rights in fashion . and monitor even more closely all suppliers involved in this industry,” she wrote.
Ovis 21 says it is dedicated to regenerating grasslands and specializes in “holistic management.”
The U.S. Coast Guard won’t use as many live animals for its combat medical training after an animal rights group showed a goat’s legs being removed with tree trimmers.
The agency said the video led to a review of its policies and the Coast Guard came to the decision that it could reduce by half the number of animals it uses.
The Coast Guard said it can do that by only requiring personnel deploying in support of the Defense Department to train with animals.
In 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals obtained a video of the live tissue training that showed the goats as well as other traumas. The goats were intentionally injured so the students could treat injuries like those they might see while in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf, according to the Coast Guard. The training was held in Virginia Beach for Coast Guardsmen preparing to deploy to Iraq.
PETA, in a letter to the Homeland Security Department, said “nothing about the training session depicted in the video even gives the illusion of a battlefield casualty situation.”
A Coast Guard investigation released in May said the goats were subjected to traumas that simulated an improvised explosive device attack or enemy fire fight. Instructors inflicted injuries with a shotgun, pistol, ax and a scalpel.
The Coast Guard investigation found that its personnel did nothing wrong, but a contractor providing instruction was cited by the Agriculture Department for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The investigation said there were not enough instructors available to provide additional anesthesia to the goats at the same time. The goats were euthanized at the end of the training.
While the Coast Guard in its final report defended its practice of using the animals, it said “the controversial nature” of live tissue training necessitated that it closely scrutinize its policies.
“The Coast Guard will continue to refine, reduce, and, when appropriate, replace the use of live animals in medical training,” Carlos Diaz, a Washington-based Coast Guard spokesman, said in an email to The Associated Press. “We look forward to insights and input from other organizations as we continue to look for these opportunities.”
PETA welcomed the news, although it said there’s more that can still be done.
“The Coast Guard has taken a laudable first step by slashing in half the number of live animals who will be shot, stabbed, and mutilated in its training drills,” PETA Director of Laboratory Investigations Justin Goodman said in a written statement. “We continue to urge the Coast Guard to join the more than 80 percent of our NATO allies that have completely replaced their use of animals in medical training with superior simulation technology.”
On the Web
There’s extensive evidence that pigs are as smart and sociable as dogs. Yet one species is afforded affection and respect; the other faces mass slaughter en route to becoming bacon, ham and pork chops.
Seeking to capitalize on that discrepancy, animal-welfare advocates are launching a campaign called “The Someone Project”, which aims to highlight research depicting pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals as more intelligent and emotionally complex than commonly believed. The hope is that more people might view these animals with the same empathy that they view dogs, cats, elephants, great apes and dolphins.
“When you ask people why they eat chickens but not cats, the only thing they can come up with is that they sense cats and dogs are more cognitively sophisticated than the species we eat – and we know this isn’t true,” said Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the animal-protection and vegan-advocacy organization that is coordinating the new project.
“What it boils down to is people don’t know farm animals the way they know dogs or cats,” Friedrich said. “We’re a nation of animal lovers, and yet the animals we encounter most frequently are the animals we pay people to kill so we can eat them.”
The lead scientist for the project is Lori Marino, a lecturer in psychology at Emory University who has conducted extensive research on the intelligence of whales, dolphins and primates. She plans to review existing scientific literature on farm animals’ intelligence, identify areas warranting new research and prepare reports on her findings that would be circulated worldwide via social media, videos and her personal attendance at scientific conferences.
“I want to make sure this is all taken seriously,” Marino said. “The point is not to rank these animals but to re-educate people about who they are. They are very sophisticated animals.”
For Marino and Friedrich, who are both vegans, the goals of the project are twofold – to build broader public support for humane treatment of farm animals and to boost the ranks of Americans who choose not to eat meat.
“This project is not a way to strong-arm people into going vegan overnight but giving them a fresh perspective and maybe making them a little uncomfortable,” Marino said.
“Maybe they’ll be thinking, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know cows and pigs could recognize each other and have special friends,’” she said. “That might make them squirm a little, but that’s OK.”
The major associations representing chicken and pork producers are not pleased with the project.
“While animals raised for food do have a certain degree of intelligence, Farm Sanctuary is seeking to humanize them to advance its vegan agenda – an end to meat consumption,” said David Warner of the National Pork Producers Council. “While vegans have a right to express their opinion – and we respect that right – they should not force their lifestyle on others.”
A pig’s life
Some researchers say pigs’ cognitive abilities are superior to 3-year-old children, as well as to dogs and cats.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a section on its website entitled “The Hidden Lives of Pigs,” which depicts them as social, playful and protective animals with a vocabulary of more than 20 different oinks, grunts and squeaks.
“Pigs are known to dream, recognize their own names, learn tricks like sitting for a treat and lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates,” the website says. “Like humans, pigs enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls and getting massages.”
The website recounts news stories of pigs saving the lives of imperiled humans and saving themselves by jumping off trucks bound for slaughterhouses.
Treatment of pigs has been a political issue in several states due to efforts to pass laws banning the confinement of breeding pigs in gestation crates. In fact, the treatment of factory-farmed animals is so cruel and brutal that industrial farming corporations in some states actually have pressured lawmakers into passing laws making it illegal for activists to videotape abuse. Opponents say these “ag-gag” laws violate free speech, food safety and animal and worker rights.
For instance, a law in Iowa makes it illegal for investigative journalists and activists to take jobs at animal facilities for the purpose of recording undercover footage. The laws were enacted after videos were posted on the Web showing such horrors as workers kicking, beating and electrically torturing “down cows” – cows that are weakened from sickness and starvation or crippled from their long, overcrowded ride to the slaughterhouse.
“(Legislators) would recoil in horror if dogs and cats were subjected to the same conditions,” Friedrich said.
Bob Martin, a food systems expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said he developed an appreciation of pigs’ emotional complexity while serving recently as executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
“Pigs in gestation crates show a lot of signs of depression,” he said. “When I went to a farm operation in Iowa where pigs were not confined, they came running up to greet the farmer like they were dogs. They wanted to interact with him.”
Bernard Rollin, a Colorado State University professor who teaches both philosophy and animal science, said he expected increasing numbers of meat-eaters to join the ranks of those demanding changes in the way pigs are housed at many large facilities.
“You have to have ideological blindness to think these animals are not intelligent,” Rollin said. “I hope we go back to an agriculture that works more with the animals’ biological and psychological needs and nature rather than against them.”
“The trouble is, we’re used to seeing them as herds,” he said. “You see 1,000 cows or pigs and think, ‘Oh, they’re all the same.’ But there are actually huge individual differences.”
According to Farm Sanctuary, cows become excited over intellectual challenges, chickens can navigate mazes and sheep can remember the faces of dozens of individual humans and other sheep for more than two years.
There is existing research suggesting that campaigns such as The Someone Project may make headway in influencing consumers.
In one recent study examining doubts that people might have about eating meat, University of British Columbia psychologists Matthew Ruby and Steven Heine concluded that the animal’s level of intelligence was the foremost concern.
Another recent study by university researchers from Australia and Britain concluded that many meat-eaters experience moral conflict if reminded of the intelligence of the animals they are consuming.
“Although most people do not mind eating meat, they do not like thinking of animals they eat as having possessed minds,” the researchers wrote in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Dena Jones, manager of the Animal Welfare Institute’s farm animal program, predicted that public awareness of farm animals’ intelligence would steadily increase, leading to more pressure on the farm industry from food retailers and restaurant chains.
“It’s the retailers who are going to force the industry to bring their practices into line with consumer expectations,” she said.
Louis Weisberg contributed to this article.
On the Web
HBO’s “Death on a Factory Farm”