Over the past year, Muncie Voice has printed several stories about the abusive practices of CAFO’s and how Indiana legislators seemingly partner with Big Ag by silently bringing these entities into our state, providing them with financial incentives funded by taxpayers, and then protecting them with legislation written by elected officials who either own CAFO’s themselves or receive corporate contributions from them.
We attended a consortium of small family owned farmers with academic and industry experts who claim the abuses to animals are outrageous and polluting our ecosystem has virtually gone unchecked by state or federal regulators. Individuals and environmental groups complained through formal channels, and instead of getting assistance from the government who is supposed to look out for our communities, animals, and the environment, they write legislation making it more expensive to bring about complaints, shifting legal compensation onto the backs of the whistle-blowers, and writing laws to protect the CAFO’s.
Why would the government be working for industry versus working to protect citizens and our environment?
The current breed of legislators work for those who put them into office, and in Indiana, that means the republican party. Attached to a farm bill, one law made it illegal to fly over a CAFO and take photographs. Flyovers were being used by environmental groups to expose how CAFO owners were building drainage tiles from their manure ponds into local waterways thus polluting our rivers and streams. Instead of writing up the polluters and issuing fines, our legislators adopted bills making it illegal to gather evidence against the polluters.
As you would expect, passionate citizens cannot be stopped by blatant corruption between legislators and corporations. It only fuels their passion. Citizens organize themselves along with investigative journalists (you won’t find any from Gannett) who pose as workers to get hired by the CAFO’s. While working, they would gather evidence regarding animal abuse, environmental pollution, mishandling of meat, and use of steroids and hormones on animals to accelerate the animals growth for earlier slaughtering.
This evidence was then used in exposing Big Ag for these harmful strategies in the name of profits.
Again, how does the government respond?
By making it an “act of terrorism” for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on corporate-controlled farms that produce 98% of our meat, eggs and dairy products.
And who better to write the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act“, designed to protect Big Ag and Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and now infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
These laws are referred to as Ag-Gag since they are aimed at preventing employees, investigative journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms.
Lawmakers in 12 states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012 (including Indiana). The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah. But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.
ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of the CAFO’s exposed were as a direct result of undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make an act of terrorism.
Talk about a sense of entitlement.
Most of the Ag-Gag laws introduced since 2011 borrow the premise, if not the exact language, from model legislation designed by ALEC. ALEC’s sole purpose is to write model legislation that protects corporate profits. Industry then pushes state legislators to adopt the bills for their states and push them through. The idea behind the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” is to make it illegal to “enter an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”
These boilerplate ALEC laws turn journalists and crime investigators into terrorists.
Apart from the obvious ethical concerns, Ag-Gag laws also threaten public health and the environment, and undermine workers’ rights and free speech laws. Undercover investigations at factory farms have exposed the mishandling of meat, eggs and milk in ways that lead to health risks including mad cow disease, salmonella, e-coli and others. We receive constant notifications of recalls due to salmonella and e-coli risks.
Ag-Gag bills also keep employees and others from blowing the whistle on environmental violations. Huge amounts of waste are generated by the billions of cows, pigs and chickens on factory farms. Much of that waste, full of antibiotics, growth promoters and synthetic hormones, finds its way into our waterways and municipal water supplies.
State and federal laws require CAFO’s to “minimize environmental damage”, but the laws are often not enforced. One of the ways to expose violations is through undercover investigations. There are volunteer water monitors within states throughout the Midwest who check rivers and streams near CAFO’s to determine if they’re releasing the toxic farm waste.
Due to the consolidation within the meat packing industry, nearly all meat production is handled by four major companies. Muncie Voice has been told many local CAFO’s are owned by several smaller companies so each one can file for farm credits and receive dollars from the federal and state government even though the animals are all on the same piece of property. Again, these CAFO’s see very few regulators, and in many cases the lawmakers are owners of CAFO’s.
With meat packers controlling and feeding their own livestock, the companies can buy the animals when prices are low and slaughter their own livestock when bidding prices rise. This puts long-term, downward pressure on prices and effectively allows the meat packers to manipulate prices. With 90% of the livestock moving through 4 main suppliers, it’s nothing more than a cartel. Where have you heard this before?
Concentrated power within a few hands allows for price fixing and other market manipulations. This is not considered a free market like the Koch’s would like you to believe.
Any beginning economics student can tell you that when competition declines within an industry, only a few players survive and the rest weaken. Across the United States, the CAFOS’s and meat processors have gotten stronger, and the local economies in which they operate have gotten weaker due to lower wages, smaller number of farms which in turn don’t hire farm workers. They are also first in line for corporate tax credits, tax abatements and shift the burden of cleaning up our polluted waterways onto local municipalities or taxpayers.
The majority of Americans see Ag-Gag laws as negative and don’t want them. They can see they attack consumers’ right to know. We’re seeing the same fight over labeling GMO foods.
When consumers learn that 98% of the animals raised for food are raised in factory farms, they generally agree that lawmakers should focus on strengthening laws on CAFO’s, not reducing consumer protections.
While the Ag-Gag bill was defeated in Indiana, our elected officials are currently introducing a new bill (HJR-0005) which has the following verbiage: The right of Indiana citizens to engage in traditional and modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in Indiana. No law shall be enacted that abridges the right of Indiana citizens to employ traditional or modern agricultural technology, animal production, or ranching practices.
Why would legislators introduce a bill preventing laws to be written against Big Ag by local jurisdictions? Why does Big Ag need these kind of blanket protections from local and federal regulations?
It would not be surprising if this is yet another bill introduced by ALEC and the Koch’s with a republican dominated caucus in Indianapolis. For more about the bill in Indiana, visit HR0005.