Opinion: Blocking 'ag gag' laws may prolong abuse
April 25th, 2013
09:15 PM ET
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Mike Haley is a fifth generation farmer, raising corn and livestock on his Ohio family farm. Follow him on Twitter @FarmerHaley.

Editor's note: So-called "ag gag" bills proposed in states across the country would either require anyone who videotapes, photographs or records incidents of animal cruelty to turn over the evidence to authorities within 24-48 hours or prohibit the making of undercover videos, photographs and sound recordings on farms, depending on local legislation. Proponents say that these laws protect agriculture business. Opponents say they hinder free speech, food safety and animal and worker rights. One such law, HF 589, has already been signed into law in Iowa and makes it illegal for investigative journalists and activists to take jobs at animal facilities for the purpose of recording undercover footage.

Growing up on a farm, one of my biggest responsibilities was tending to the animals in our family’s care. At times livestock can be unpredictable in ways that are both amusing and frustrating, but much like a parent cares for their child, I cannot think of a moment that my top priority was not in the best interest of our animals and our land.

That is not saying that our livestock always respond in a positive manner to our practices. They are not capable of understanding how regular occurrences on the farm like vaccinations are for their benefit. I often wonder how others would respond if videos and pictures were shared out of context while I was caring for our animals.

I am not alone; several other farmers and ranchers across the country have had fears of "undercover" videos that only share part of the story, often out of context, from their farm.

This fear has led to proposed legislation in several states that make it illegal for video to be filmed on farms without the knowledge of the owner. In several ways this makes total sense. A farm is private property and placing undercover video in a farmer’s barn without permission is not much different than placing a hidden camera in the privacy of somebody’s home without their knowledge.

However, I am not a fan of these types of laws. They reduce transparency and make others question some very good practices that farmers utilize today to care for their livestock.

Recently on The Ellen Show CEO of The Humane Society of The United States Wayne Pacelle discussed these proposed bills calling them “ag gag bills.” He compared them to the recent bombings in Boston, stating that if it were not for citizens rights to film video during the marathon police may still be looking for those responsible. While this is true, it is also true that if anyone had evidence that the bombings were being planned and didn’t report it, they can be charged an accomplice.

This is why I am confused as to why HSUS and PETA have sought to block legislation in Vermont, California and Tennessee that would require anyone filming animal abuse to provide the unedited video to authorities. These are not bills that would “gag” anyone from filming video on farms at all; in fact they could be seen as legislation that better defines how an untrained undercover investigator can legally take video surveillance on private property. They also allow authorities to be properly notified in a timely manner so they can assist with the investigation before the video is used by anti-farm groups to gain publicity by releasing it to the media or posting on the internet.

Abuse of animals is wrong, period. Whether the abuser is a farmer, trainer, breeder or an animal protection group using abuse for personal gain, the abuse is still sick and deranged. Standing up against legislation that ensures that documentation of abuse is properly reported in a timely manner in no way protects animals, but only allows for them to suffer longer.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Haley.

Got a question for Mike or any of our other farmers? Please share it below and we'll do our best to have a great conversation.

Previously:
Opinion: What the 'ag gag' bills mean to my farm
Start a conversation with a farmer
Opinion: Where are the female and minority farmers?
Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?
What should a 'local' farm (and farmer) look like?
Who are you calling 'rich'? A small farmer shares some hard data
Forward-thinking farmers are preventing another Dust Bowl
What a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate



soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. nsaneldy

    One correction needs to be noted. Mike Haley wrote " A farm is private property and placing undercover video in a farmer’s barn without permission is not much different than placing a hidden camera in the privacy of somebody’s home without their knowledge." This can not be considered as being the same as "the privacy of somebody's home" since the product from farms is for human consumption, and private homes aren't producing anything for anyone else, but themselves. Farms are businesses and can't be compared to private homes.

    July 12, 2014 at 2:25 am | Reply
  2. Anne

    Thank you, Whoo, for your comments. I hadn't heard about the Jackie McConnell case, but the ones about the cows sicken me. Glad to hear there are some stores selling "certified humane" meat. Am going to have to seek a store like that out here in CA.

    May 30, 2014 at 12:00 am | Reply
  3. Jen

    This is a Petition about animal abuse in Ohio Please read the article and sign it, something needs to be done http://www.change.org/petitions/columbus-ohio-mayor-mike-coleman-and-the-columbus-ohio-police-department-stop-letting-animal-abuse-go-unpunished

    June 20, 2013 at 4:04 am | Reply
  4. Buck

    In simple terms, it takes time to build a case against a farm or place of business being investigated for animal cruelty. All this legistlation seems to do is make it difficult for that investigator to build a more solid case. If you have to turn in your evidence that early, what's to prevent a given farm from simply covering up all indications of animal cruelty and then labeling the evidence of animal cruelty as a one time occurrence? So unfortunately, turning in evidence that early is just a way of alerting the farm or plant that they're under investigation. In no way do these 'ag gag' laws benefit the animals or the consumer. It simply gives the consumer/investigator LESS power to uncover cases of animal cruelty.

    May 2, 2013 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • wh00

      did you read about this?:

      "A Utah woman this week was the first to be arrested and face charges under the state’s new so-called ag-gag laws, aimed to protect factory farms from whistle-blowers."
      =
      Amy Meyer was standing on public property outside the fence of a meatpacking facility and took a picture/video with her phone. charges were dropped, probably when it was realized that this was a huge PR disaster. it's only a taste of things to come.

      May 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply
      • Buck

        I was not aware of that case. It doesn't surprise me though since Utah definitely went to the extreme when it comes to protecting 'big ag'. And I can definitely agree, as you said, that it's "only a taste of things to come".

        May 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  5. wh00

    haha, love it! I did kind of wonder what the yahoo thing was about.

    just have a final few words for ya....if you don't have the time and inclination to read up on this bill (and ag-gag bills in a dozen plus other states), ask yourself this: if this bill is straight up about stopping livestock abuse, everyone should be for it, right? so how come there's such a huge outcry against it?

    love your dogs, btw.

    May 1, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Mike Haley

      Thanks, I love my dogs too.

      Curious, what's your thoughts on drones in the U.S. to monitor what citizens are doing in areas that can't be seen from public roads?

      May 2, 2013 at 7:39 am | Reply
      • wh00

        I see where you're going with this....but your question has lots of moving parts.

        first of all, let me state my personal stance on brutality against animals. I kind of see it like soldiers might have in wars past: if some of your own are caught behind enemy lines, you go rescue them. in the case of the humane association, that means exposing the abuse and seeking prosecution of the abusers.

        I don't support P.E.T.A.'s stance....which is pretty radical. comparing them with HSUS is like saying islam is the same as christianity because they both are based on the existence of a supreme being.

        the humane association has stated that their main goal is to lobby (and educate) lawmakers to get laws in place to protect animals. everything else is tangential. btw, I think the laws should be at a federal level instead of having to stiffen statutes state by state. in the case of the dairy farm worker who routinely beat restrained cows in the head with a crowbar, under ohio law he was charged with a misdemeanor. I mean....littering is a misdemeanor!

        as far as surveillance, a sky filled with aircraft indiscriminately spying on people is something out of a science fiction movie, and fraught with danger if controlled by the wrong people. there is no parallel with the humane association: as far as I know, they only commit resources to an investigation if they have been tipped off to criminal abuse – usually by an employee or inspector with first hand knowledge. I would say that a farmer like yourself is at zero risk of being investigated by anyone.

        do you agree with me that someone needs to be looking into extreme animal abuse? and if the humane association were out of the picture, who would do it? I don't see anyone else stepping up.

        May 2, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
        • Mike Haley

          Somehow we seem to be getting into an argument about HSUS, lets not do that as this is more than just about them and in all reality I don't have a huge issue with how they conduct most of their undercover investigations, I have talked quite a few times with their representatives about their protocol when they find abuse. However, they don't conduct the majority of investigations, there are many other groups out there.

          One of which was the group that filmed the undercover video of the deranged employee beating the cows here in Ohio that you mentioned. This was done by Mercy For Animals, I am thankful that they undercovered this horrible act of abuse but at the same time I am outraged at how they did so. Did you know that instead of alerting authorities (In Ohio that would be the local Humane Society of SPCA) they contacted a reporter from a TV station that was over an hour and a half away? The local law enforcement actually had to get a subpoena in order to obtain enough video to even make a case against this individual.

          Maybe the wording in the Tennessee law (is it still sitting on Haslams desk? we started planting so I have no clue whats going on now) is not where it needs to be yet, but the current status quo that any vigilante can conduct his own investigation without ever alerting authorities when they find abuse is a very flawed system that does not allow for charges to be pressed.

          As far as what he was charged with, I believe that HSUS has successfully lobbied to strengthen the charges for abusers in Ohio.

          May 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  6. wh00

    in the case of the infamous walking horse trainer, jackie mcconnell, the initial videos were turned over to federal prosecutors within two weeks of the worker being hired. it was the prosecutors who asked that the videos not be released until they had a case in place. the undercover investigator continued to document abuse for another month, but it was months before law enforcement took action.

    consider that the worker had to do the job she/he was hired to do, with limited access to the areas where the abuse was taking place. additionally, he/she could not be so nosy that suspicion was aroused. perhaps the first incident recorded was not enough to prove a pattern of abuse....but the investigation is ended when the documentation is turned over to authorities. it's time and effort wasted with no justice for the animals.

    when states are passing laws that make it illegal to take a picture or record sounds of animals suffering, it protects those guilty of criminal brutality, and makes criminals of the would-be whistleblowers. the intent of these laws is clear.

    this is a slippery slope. what other groups will seek to enact laws that prevent investigation of their criminal behavior? politicians?

    April 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • Mike Haley

      Thanks for the information on the Jackie McConnell video, it sounds like the undercover videographer was ahead of their time as they handled the situation pretty much the same way as the recent legislation in Tennessee asked them to do so. By turning the video over to authorities in a timely manner that allowed them to build the case accordingly, unlike many of the other cases where undercover videographers would release illegal activity to the media and never alert authorities to do so. It sounds like we are pretty much in agreement on this issue, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      April 29, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Reply
      • wh00

        umm....this videographer could have been arrested if this law had been in place. how about going after the abusers instead of those seeking to expose it? it seems we have the best politicians money can buy.

        in that video, jackie mcconnell's horse was lying down – in so much pain he couldn't stand....so he was beaten until he stood again I've never heard a horse yelp like that.

        jackie got probation and a fine. that's justice? he's been abusing horses for decades. but yeah...let's make laws that target whistleblowers instead of abusers.

        there isn't a major newspaper in tennessee that supports that bill, btw....they see it for what it is.

        April 30, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
        • Mike Haley

          Please correct me if I am wrong, but the Tennessee regulations require anyone who has proof of abuse to contact authorities so they can begin working on a case they can use to prosecute. By your explanation above what happened in the Jackie McConnell case is almost a model as to what the law would have required, even though it was not even proposed yet.

          I stand with you, abuse is wrong and should not be tolerated. If undercover agents are not willing to work with authorities once they have evidence of such abuse it greatly reduces authorities ability to prosecute, that is a great injustice.

          April 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
        • wh00

          mike,

          the original bill proposed by andy hold would prohibit ANY documentation of livestock abuse. it was voted down.

          then he co-sponsored the current bill which would make a criminal of anyone documenting abuse who did not turn evidence over within 24-48 hours. additionally, as I understand it, that evidence would not be permissible in court since it is 'illegal'. another legislator proposed that *anyone* who witnesses abuse be required to report it - but the co-sponsors of this bill tabled that amendment.

          these bills over 15 or so states are being written by a central big business/big money lobbying firm and then handed around to lawmakers to introduce. clearly, animal welfare is not at the center of these bills; rather it is the coverup of systemic criminal abuse - because it's bad PR.

          April 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
        • Mike Haley

          proposed bills get changed all the time, it's not worth the time Yahoo discuss previous versions, just the ones that were approved, in this case sitting on the governor's desk waiting for a thumbs up or down.

          If what you are saying about the documentation not legally allowed in court I would encourage Governor Haslam to veto the bill, however from the language I read I don't believe that is the case.

          April 30, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • wh00

          mike,

          you are missing the point. the original bill by andy holt was not a previous version of the current bill. it was a proposal that showed his true intent. he wanted to make it illegal to document ANY animal abuse. period. full stop.

          on the current bill, he and his co-sponsor did not want an amendment that would require animal abuse to be reported by anyone who sees it. period. full stop.

          from a piece on cattlenetwork:

          "Bottom line: It’s time to ramp up the consequences for bad behavior. Sending a few low level employees down the river will never solve the problem. Holding top management’s feet to the fire through hefty fines and jail time will slam the door shut on these practices. The responsibility to hire the right people, give them adequate training and vigilant supervision lies in the front office."

          this was in response to cases like the dairy farm in ohio where a worker routinely stomped calves' heads, stabbed cows in the face and stomach with a pitchfork, and hit them in the head with crowbars up to 40 times. now what kind of person would not want that reported? apparently people like andy holt and dolores gresham of tennessee.
          =
          note: governor haslam vetoed a bill that would make animal abuse a felony. I guess he hobnobs with some of those walking horse people.

          from the Tennessean newspaper about the current bill:

          "... it does not punish people who actually break the law by abusing animals. There is no punishment for those actually committing the crime. Rather, it punishes those who would gather evidence of a crime being committed."

          April 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
        • Mike Haley

          sorry for the typos, autocorrect is hard to control when you are bouncing around in a tractor.

          April 30, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
      • wh00

        mike,

        this is a reply to your most recent post, which doesn't have a reply button for some reason.

        I'm pretty much an omnivore although I'd be happy to never see octopus on a plate again.....so I'm just saying I am a little less enthusiastic about animal rights groups whose main agenda is turning everyone vegan; and I've been defending HSUS in other forums to people who think all those groups are out to ruin the beef industry.

        I've read article after article and can't find anything that says the Mercy group took the video to the media first. I found this from a television station website:

        "A dairy farm employee was arrested on Wednesday after video revealed alleged abuse.

        An animal welfare group asked prosecutors to review undercover video that it says shows workers abusing cows at a central Ohio dairy farm, 10TV News reported...

        The video was presented to the City of Marysville prosecutor's office for review..."

        I am all for mandatory reporting (by employees as well), but big business will fight it tooth and nail.

        I buy my milk in glass bottles from a local dairy. I buy free range eggs, and produce from the local amish I wish there were a similar family farm source for meat and poultry in my area. cutting out the middle man would probably put more money in the pockets of the farmers too.

        May 3, 2013 at 1:23 am | Reply
        • Mike Haley

          Well, I need to apologize as I was going off memory. I went back to see what I wrote when that happened and it does say simultaneously. That was a few years back and I must have got it confused with another case our something. if you are interested in my thoughts from then here is the blog post http://commonsenseagriculture.com/2010/05/26/guest-post-undercover-agendas/

          May 3, 2013 at 7:32 am |
        • wh00

          mike,

          thanks for the link to your blog. I read your entry and all the comments. for the record, I don't think the average consumer thinks the small farms are the problem. as others pointed out, it's when the operation is so large that you end up with hourly-wage employees who hate their jobs and resent the animals in their care. and if they treat animals badly, they probably don't treat their families much better.

          I've been researching the 'animal welfare' labeling of meat/poultry: "At one grocery outlet, at least, "certified humane" meat is selling briskly. D'Agostino, a small grocery chain in New York, said sales of meat jumped 25 percent since it added the "certified humane" logo, though the products cost, on average, 30 to 40 percent more." it's a good sign. some people care!

          we are in total agreement on the issue of animal welfare. we just disagree on the true intent of this current bill in tennessee. I think you're thinking that it brings quick relief to the abused animals...which isn't necessarily true. I was re-reading about the jackie mcconnell (walking horse) investigation. I think the timeline is this: the HSUS turned over video to authorities in early 2011. the horses were seized in march of 2012. what?? read that again. geeze. what can we do about that?

          I believe governor haslam is having his attorneys determine if the legislation is an assault on the constitution. his loyalties lie with big business. he and his brother own a chain of gas stations and they were raided recently by the FBI for some kind of malfeasance.

          May 3, 2013 at 9:34 am |

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