Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Not in My Name": An Extraordinary Short Film, a Must-See

Please take 13 minutes to watch this powerful short documentary, "Not in My Name." But be warned: It contains very graphic scenes of violence and brutality. It should be required viewing for all meat eaters. Joanna Lumley, Paul McCartney and Chrissie Hynde and other celebrities (mostly British in this case) offer commentary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

10 Things You Should Know About the Ag-Gag Movement

The Ag-Gag Movement - the evil effort by state legislators across the United States to ban photography and filming inside of factory farms, slaughter houses and other animal production facilities - is gaining strength across the country. Here are 10 things to remember about this nationwide jihad to stamp out the truth and punish whistleblowers.

1. Corruption and Ag-gag: In Iowa, many corporate supporters of ag-gag also made major contributions to key legislators. As the Des Moines Register notes:
The National Institute on Money in State Politics has found that almost 10 percent of the $8.9 million Gov. Terry Branstad raised in his most recent campaign came from the agriculture industry. And almost $8,000 — more than one-fourth of all the campaign money raised in 2010 by Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport, a self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who led discussion on the bill — came from the ag sector, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group. And almost $8,000 — more than one-fourth of all the campaign money raised in 2010 by Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport, a self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who led discussion on the bill — came from the ag sector, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group.
2. Ag-Gag Crime and Punishment: Governor Gary Herbert signed the Ag-Gag Bill in Utah today. It is a pernicious and draconian bill with stiff punishments for violators, such as a year in prison for filming animal abuse. (Source)

3. Protecting the Abusers: Who do Ag-Gaq laws protect? Cody Carlson of the Humane Society of the United States tells us exactly who these laws protect:

They protect guys like Billy Jo Gregg, a dairy worker who was convicted of six counts of animal cruelty in 2010 after being caught punching, kicking, and stabbing restrained cows and calves at an Ohio farm. They protect the North Carolina Department of Agriculture official who recently pled guilty to obstruction of justice after tipping a Butterball turkey plant off to a police investigation. The investigation, based on Mercy For Animals' undercover footage, also resulted in seven arrests for felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty. Perhaps most egregiously, the Ag Gag laws also protect the slaughterhouses that regularly send sick and dying animals into our food supply, and would prevent some of the biggest food safety recalls in U.S. history. (Source)

4. Bob Barker Fights the Good Fight (Again): Former Price is Right host Bob Barker has been heroically campaigning against Ag-Gag, most recently in Missouri. As he noted: "Missouri lawmakers must realize that consumers are demanding better treatment of animals used for food, not the agriculture industry to cover up illegal acts and penalize those who try to expose routine cruelty."

5. Hiding the Truth: What are Ag-Gag laws trying to hide? In the case of Iowa, Florida animal welfare advocate Cheryl Hanna points out:

Iowa, the leading state for pork and egg production are no strangers to agriculture investigations in the past. The Iowa Select investigation in 2011, revealed egregious animal handling conditions and treatment of pigs. The state produces 19 million pigs a year confining the female sows in metal crates no larger than their own bodies. Undercover video by Mercy for Animals representatives revealed piglets having their tails cut off with dull scissors and castrated with out painkillers. Pigs were shown beaten, stepped on, living in filthy conditions - many with open sores and festering wounds.

Also leading the country in egg production with 54 million egg laying chickens, Mercy for Animals also led the undercover investigation in 2009 of Hy-Line Hatchery which hatches more than 300,000 chicks a day. Never before had the world seen undercover video of unwanted male chicks thrown into grinding machines while still alive. Male chicks are killed shortly after they hatch because they cannot produce eggs and grow too slowly to be efficiently raised for food.

And one of the latest investigations to air on national television 20/20 showed undercover video of Sparboe Farms in three states including Iowa where thousands upon thousands of chickens live in battery cages unable to even spread their wings. For their entire lives, after they have had their beaks and claws burned or cut off to prevent injury to other birds, all they do is lay eggs. The video showed unsanitary conditions, dead birds rotting, flies swarming, and the presence of rodents - all a preamble to salmonella, a dangerous and deadly health threat to humans. (Source)

6. Screw Free Speech: The Ag-Gag laws violate our freedom of speech. Mark Kende, law professor and director of Constitutional Law at Iowa's Drake University, has pointed out that Ag-Gag laws represent a form of "prior restraint," which is a preemptive attempt to halt free speech before it is actually carried out. "This sounds like it has elements of prior restraint and that's troubling. The framers of the U.S. Constitution were very hostile to anything that snapped at prior restraints." (Source)

7. When the Word "Protection" Loses All Meaning: In a further Orwellian bastardization of the English language, the murderous American pork industry actually uses the term "Ag Protection" to describe the numerous bills cropping up across the United States. "The only thing that the law attempts to gag are false pretenses used by some to gain access to farms." Could it be that false pretenses are necessary because factory farms and slaughterhouses are so fiercely guarded and would they would never allow whistleblowers inside of their facilities?

8. Revenge of the Pink Slime: Ag-Gag bills will keep food production shrouded in secrecy. This includes meat that is produced containing so-called "pink slime." As microbiologist Carl Custer, who has worked with the Food Safety Inspection Service for the past 35 years, noted: "It's not meat. We call it Soylent Pink."

9. Nothing New: Ag-Gag is nothing new. Kansas was the first state to adopt an Ag-Gag law in 1990, followed by Montana and North Dakota in 1991. The recent rash of Ag-Gag bills being passed across the United States represent a revival of a terrible trend that began 22 years ago. Iowa and Utah are the most recent states to pass Ag-Gag legislation, and bills have been introduced in legislatures in numerous other states, including Illinois, New York, Minnesota and New York.

10. The biggest victims of these bills are the animals. But a close second is the truth. As Andrew Cohen so eloquently, so beautifully, notes in The Atlantic: "Every journalist, every advocate, every person who believes in the idea that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant,' every advocate of transparency, and every person who cares about what they eat ought to be concerned by these laws. Put another way: If these industries need this much special protection from the collection of truthful images then it's awful to imagine what's happening to some of the animals who live in those places the cameras have not yet found."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"I Am Leaving, I Am Leaving, But the Fighter Still Remains..."

I am leaving/I am leaving/But the fighter still remains
-Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer"

What better lyrics to quote than those immortal lines from Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon's "The Boxer" to describe a tragic defeat? The news from last night was not good. I'm not talking about the Republicans and Super Tuesday.

I'm talking about Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who lost in the Ohio Democratic primary yesterday to Mary Kaptur.

Since 1997, Kucinich has been a tireless advocate for the poor, minorities, working families and progressive reform. He has also been a voice for the voiceless: Animals.

Kucinich is the only vegan in Congress. Moreover, he has spent years sponsoring and supporting animal-friendly legislation. Kucinich has demonstrated "a career-long commitment to animal welfare and active leadership on these issues," said the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the lobbying branch of the United States Humane Society. (Source)

As the Cleveland Plain-Dealer noted:
The group applauded Kucinich for co-sponsoring a law that bans commerce in videos showing the torture of live animals for the sexual titillation of viewers, as well as legislation that would crack down on puppy mills, establish federal penalties for dogfights and cockfights, and phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive medical research. Kucinich's wife, Elizabeth, who works as public affairs director for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has been an outspoken advocate of the chimp protection bill. (Source)

In the days leading up the primary election, record executive, humanitarian, vegan and founder Russell Simmons offered the following impassioned plea for Kucinich:

While we watch the Republicans try to drag our country further and further to the Right, there is no other congressmember who fights for a more compassionate America than Dennis. He wants everyone to have healthcare, affordable higher education and quality, sustainable jobs. During his entire political career, he has been a champion for peace and a powerful anti-war activist. He has shown compassion for the planet and all of the animals that inhabit it. He has stood up for the gay community and other under-served communities who often times are forgotten about on the House floor. He has always protected the rights of African-Americans and Latinos, even when it wasn't in his best "political interests." Dennis Kucinich is the People's Congressman. He cannot be bought and sold by any special interest group or any lobbying firm. He goes to work everyday for the people of his district and of this great nation. He has never taken for granted the rights he was given, as he has always fought for the rights of everyone. (Source)

Representative Kucinich's defeat yesterday was indeed a depressing moment in American politics, but not exactly a surprise. The political landscape in Washington, D.C. is not always kind to genuinely humanitarian progressives and gadflies like Dennis Kucinich.

And his defeat comes at a bad time for animals, as more and more state legislatures are trying to pass "Ag-Gag" laws banning videotaping and photographing inside of factory farms and slaughterhouses.

But the fight goes on. Kucinich never gave up. We shouldn't, either. The stakes are too high. Human lives and animal lives hang in the balance. Kucinich understood that human rights and animal rights are two sides of the same coin. One without the other is meaningless.

He'll be missed. But his example will continue to inspire others. On his Facebook page today, Kucinich quoted from an old 19th Century treatise called The Scripture of the Serene Life (1857), by J.W. Lloyd. The words are worth repeating here:
Live truth, work excellence, reach toward your ideal, but trouble not your soul about the meagerness of material results, for all spiritual laborers work along invisible lines to unforeseen and universal results... they always seem to miss their aim and always hit a larger and more eternal mark. Let all things move freely around you, and float you, on eternal currents. (Source)