Rick Berman There’s a quip that “animal rights means no animals left.” The logic is sound. Animal liberation groups like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA don’t want animals raised for food. So without an incentive or reason to raise livestock, these animals would go extinct. HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle himself has admitted that “We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.”
In this long-term sense, the animal liberation movement is ironically anti-animal. Farmers propagate domestic animal populations and treat them humanely in order to produce food for the rest of us. The PETA/HSUS crowd would rather see them gone.
But in a narrower way that’s been in the news recently, HSUS shows that concern for animals isn't at the top of its agenda. Several states are considering mandatory reporting of animal cruelty videos to authorities within 24 or 48 hours. It’s an attempt to stop animal cruelty quickly—and HSUS bizarrely opposes it.
Over the past few years, animal liberation activists have gone undercover at farms to surreptitiously videotape animal treatment. On a few occasions, they have found instances of animal cruelty by a handful of rogue employees, leading to criminal charges.
That’s a good thing. But there’s a downside to this reporting activity.
Animal liberation groups can currently film abusive and unapproved employee behavior for weeks or months and report it when they feel like it. And they have an incentive to delay, even if it means individual animals face continued abuse.
Consider a January 2008 meat recall stemming from undercover footage filmed at a California beef processing plant. HSUS recorded footage for six weeks and found some employees guilty of poor treatment of cows. Yet the USDA didn’t learn of the video until it was leaked to the media two months later.
HSUS then milked the resulting controversy for all it was worth, latching onto fears about food safety. But if it really were so concerned, why didn’t it turn over the tapes months earlier?
Because a media blitz gives them a platform to attack animal farming. These groups have a larger agenda against using any animals for food. Mercy for Animals, one organization filming undercover videos, promotes vegan diets, meaning no meat, dairy, or eggs. HSUS, whose food policy director has compared animal farming to the Nazi Holocaust, has the same vegan agenda.
Not to beat a dead horse, but HSUS is essentially saying it’s OK for some farm employee to beat a live one for weeks or months if it’s for the supposed “greater good” of making animal agriculture look bad. While a good farmer cares for the welfare of individual animals, animal liberation activists are willing to put individual welfare lower on the totem pole than media campaigns.
Splicing footage over a few weeks or months can paint any kind of misleading picture for someone on a mission. If someone filmed an elementary school teacher for several months and then spliced together two minutes of the teacher raising her voice, yawning, or not paying attention, it could make a good teacher look bad—even though the video only represented a tiny fraction of the overall picture.
A Mercy for Animals investigation last year alleged to show cruelty at a pork farm. A panel of animal experts reviewed the footage and found that the animals were generally well-treated—but the review came after the activists had been able to poison the well in the media.
While fighting animal cruelty should be the top priority, undercover videos have instead turned into media exercises. In most cases animals face abuse longer than necessary.
Mandatory reporting of animal abuse footage is a needed reform that places law enforcement in the driver’s seat. Law enforcement has the expertise and impartiality to make proper judgment calls. Authorities may determine that alleged cruelty should be further investigated and documented. They may choose to act immediately, resulting in an abuser’s arrest or termination. Or they may consult animal experts and determine that the vegan activists’ allegations of cruelty are unfounded propaganda.
The result will be that perpetrators are stopped faster. The public, meanwhile, can still learn of crimes, as arrest records and trials are open to the media.
Opponents have dubbed mandatory reporting bills “ag gag,” but the description is disingenuous. There is nothing preventing activists from testifying or speaking to the media about what they saw. There is simply a duty to report.
That’s something you would think that self-anointed animal protection groups would support, but you would be mistaken.
Rick Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. Visit HumaneWatch.org to learn more.