CNN Exclusive by CNN Investigative Correspondent Chris Frates
Wake County, North Carolina – Chickens buried alive. Pigs so sick that their intestines hang out of their bodies. These are some of the grisly scenes from videos taken by animal rights activists who went undercover at farms that produce food destined for dinner tables.
It’s a tactic animal rights activists have used for years, going undercover at slaughterhouses and factory farms to document squalid conditions, abuse and neglect. Their videos have gone mainstream and led to criminal charges, fines and even the largest meat recall in American history.
But undercover video is under attack and with it, activists argue, their ability to expose animal abuses that can make meat dangerous to eat.
Ryan Goodman has been involved in agriculture all of his life, working on ranches across the country, as well as studying cattle nutrition and reproduction at the college levels. He works daily with farmers and ranchers, helping their voices become part of the national dialogues on food and agriculture topics. You can reach him on Twitter @AgProudRyan, as well as his personal blog, AgricultureProud.com.
Transparency in food and agriculture can have different meanings to different groups of people. As Illinois farmer, Katie Pratt, recently discussed on Eatocracy, transparency includes having an open mind for education on both sides of the plate. The issue of animal slaughter is a topic that brings much heated discussion. Recent efforts to improve the transparency in this area continue to be met with much resistance.
The New York Times ran an opinion article titled “Open the Slaughterhouses” that opened debate on the "ag gag" bills and our ability to report cases of animal cruelty. As the author suggests, increasing visibility in slaughterhouses would be a good thing, but there is a problem with that. Americans are so far removed from the reality and graphic nature of the process of death, that images of animal slaughter can stir quite the negative response.
We all saw the footage: A Rutgers basketball coach was caught on tape during a team practice hitting, kicking and cursing at his student players. The result: several firings and condemnation from the basketball world and beyond.
Now imagine that rather than condemning the abusive coach, the NCAA instead tried to pass a law criminalizing videotaping team practices.
As absurd as that is, that’s just what big players in animal agriculture are trying to do.
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.
Ryan Goodman is a generational rancher from Arkansas with a degree in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, studying beef cattle management. Goodman is one of many farmers using social media to bridge the gap between farmers and urban customers. Follow his story daily at AgricultureProud.com or on Twitter and Facebook.
There are several critics of bills being passed into law at the state-level across the country. These so-called “ag gag” bills are making news in publications like the New York Times. Op-eds with headlines “Open the Slaughterhouses” bring about much support, as seen in a Times reader's response “Silencing Witnesses to Animal Abuse.“
What does the threat of undercover video mean to me as a cattle producer or as an employee of a concentrated animal feeding operation (often called a CAFO)?
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