An editorial in this morning's The Tennessean (motto: "NCAA Brackets Inside!") alerted me to pending legislation I was unaware of until today, and for once the bill in question is aptly named.
When a conservative think tank like A.L.E.C. (the American Legislative Exchange Council) proposes legislation, its nefarious aims are usually wrapped in sweet-sounding Orwellian double-speak, giving the impression that the law is meant to do exactly the opposite of its true purpose. But here in Tennessee, the ALEC inspired animal cruelty bill is aptly called the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act". A spokesman for ALEC admits he wishes they had named their bill the "Freedom to Farm Act" instead.
I guess calling animal welfare advocates "terrorists" doesn't pass the smell test.
At first glance one might conclude this bill is designed to protect animals from abuse in the farming industry. It clearly states that any evidence of systemic abuse collected MUST be turned over to law enforcement authorities within 24-48, or the person can be charged with withholding evidence of a crime. But animal welfare groups contend the law is actually designed to protect the abusers, since it's virtually impossible to collect enough proof and conduct a viable sting operation in that time frame.
The commercial farming industry has pushed through a law in Iowa making it illegal to deny being the member of an animal welfare organization on job applications. They've made it illegal to take photographs on corporate farms in Utah. A bill exactly like the one pending here in Tennessee is also making its way through the legislatures in Nebraska and California. A bill in the Arkansas legislature would make it illegal for anyone OTHER than law enforcement to investigate animal cruelty.
See a pattern here? Big Agri-farms don't want the public to see where their food is coming from. Those videos of cattle so sick and weak they were unable to walk to slaughter? Not good for the beef bidness. Pictures of live chickens packed in crates like sardines? Not the image the egg and chicken industry wants for their products.
"At the end of the day it's about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy," said spokesman Bill Meierling. "You wouldn't want me coming into your home with a hidden camera."
No, Bill, I wouldn't want you in my house with a video camera. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want your ass in my house at all.
"I wish the cattlemen actually wanted to stop cruelty, not the documenting of cruelty," said HSUS California director Jennifer Fearing. "One could think of a thousand ways for them to actually stop cruelty rather than waiting for people to make videos and turn them over."
Last year a walking horse trainer in this area was caught on film soring horses in order to "encourage" the unnatural gait Tennessee Walking Horses are famous for, a controversial and illegal practice in the industry. The man on camera was prosecuted, pled guilty to the charges, and is no longer allowed to work as a horse trainer. Had this law been in effect at the time, preliminary evidence against him would have been turned over to authorities long before conclusive video footage of his crimes had been collected. The man would have been alerted to the fact that his actions were being monitored, and most likely he would have cleaned house to get rid of whomever was collecting that information, or he would have (at the very least) cleaned up his own act long enough to avoid prosecution.
But because the state legislature is controlled by corporate friendly GOP-ers these days, we can expect the bill protecting animal abusers to sail through and become law in Tennessee.
And once on the books, it's going to be hard as hell to document these crimes in the future. Which is exactly what ALEC and Big Agribusiness is counting upon.