For more than a decade, Mercy for Animals has investigated animal cruelty in meat production facilities. Proposed laws seek to make obtaining footage critical to the investigations illegal, and in some cases the laws would classify it as eco-terrorism.
A video released by Mercy for Animals is continually circulating on social media and live viewings are held across the country where passersby are paid to watch a segment of the film. Farm to Fridge is a compilation of footage from inside meat production facilities. It shows in graphic detail the living conditions and method of death of the animals. Viewer discretion is advised.
Videos like the one above would be unattainable, if the so-called “Ag-gag” laws are enacted. Utah already has one such law, Indiana is currently considering it, and the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) has produced a sample bill for lawmakers to introduce, which labels those who obtain the videos as eco-terrorists. A person would be guilty under ALEC’s version if they were
entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner;
That version also includes a provision that would require those convicted under the law to register with the Attorney General to be listed on a website where they would be searchable on a terrorist registry, much the same way sex offenders do.
Matt Rice, Director of Investigations for Mercy for Animals, discussed the laws and the group’s controversial film with Digital Journal. Rice, a former United States Marine, works closely with the undercover investigators that would be labeled terrorists under some of the proposed laws.
Your organization routinely sponsors events where people are offered one dollar to watch a four minute video. What typically happens when people agree?
When people watch Farm to Fridge, they are shocked, horrified and moved to make changes in their lifestyles to help animals. Most people have no idea that animals on factory farms are crammed into cages so small they cannot turn around or move freely, mutilated without painkillers, and have their throats slit while alive and suffering at the slaughterhouse. We’ve heard from countless people nationwide who have been inspired to adopt a compassionate vegetarian diet after seeing the film.
Six states have enacted laws against filming livestock production and slaughter. Why do you think that is?
Clearly the meat industry is out of step with most Americans’ basic values when it subjects animals to abuses so egregious they can’t stand the light of day. Cruelty to animals runs rampant on factory farms, and the industry knows it. Rather than improve conditions for animals, agribusiness is attempting to silence individuals who seek to expose and stop it.
I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan; however the laws aimed at barring the filming or photographing of these operations worry me as a journalist. Are you aware of any other public sector entities that are afforded this type of protection from investigation?
No other industry is afforded this type of protection from criticism. Ag-gag laws are a blatant violation of free speech and freedom of the press. They seek to punish whistleblowers who expose criminal conduct on factory farms.
Mercy for Animals
Matt Rice; Former U.S. Marine and current Director of Investigations for Mercy for Animals.
What effects do you think those laws will have if they stand up in court?
These laws aim to keep consumers in the dark, threaten public health and food safety, and shield animal abusers from public scrutiny. Without undercover investigations, there are no meaningful watchdogs protecting animals from extreme cruelty and violence at factory farms. Lawmakers should be focusing on strengthening animal protection laws, not silencing the brave whistleblowers who dare to expose corruption and cruelty.
Do you think animal rights activists will obey the law, or is getting the message out worth the civil disobedience it will take to obtain the footage?
Mercy For Animals follows all federal, state and local laws. But in every social justice movement there are those who are willing to disobey unjust laws for the greater good. Fortunately, I don’t believe it will come to that as the vast majority of Americans are opposed to ag-gag laws and it is only a matter of time until these unconstitutional laws are overturned.
What is the goal of the film; to completely end the consumption of meat, or to establish more humane methods of meat production and slaughter?
The goal of film is to show consumers the journey that animals take from Farm to Fridge. Consumers have a right to know how their food is being produced and how animals on factory farms are abused and neglected so they can make informed choices.
Do you think most people are aware of how their food is produced?
Most Americans are completely in the dark about how animals are raised and killed for food. They are surprised to learn that not a single federal law protects farmed animals from abuse or neglect during their lives on factory farms and most state laws specifically exclude farmed animals from anti-cruelty protection. Common factory farming practices, such as ripping out the testicles of piglets without painkillers and violently body slamming pigs to death, shock and horrify most Americans. Farm to Fridge aims to pull the curtain back on the factory farming industry and show consumers how animals are routinely abused before they reach their plates.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers?
Farmed animals are every bit as capable of experiencing pain, suffering, and joy as the dogs and cats so many of us know and love and they deserve the same protection from needless cruelty and violence. With the wide variety of healthy and delicious plant-based alternatives to meat, milk and eggs, it has never been easier to leave cruelty off our plates. Each of us can vote for a kinder world every time we sit down to eat by making cruelty-free food choices.