(NEW YORK) — Fearing arrest under laws pushed by the agriculture industry, animal rights activists have halted undercover camera investigations into animal cruelty in five farm states, including Iowa and Utah where the laws went into effect last year.
“We are not conducting our investigations in those five states,” said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, a group whose most recent hidden-camera exposé led to criminal charges against employees at the largest dairy farm in Idaho.
The Humane Society of the United States has also stopped its hidden-camera investigations in those states as a result of what it concedes has been a victory for the agribusiness industry.
“If you think that chilling speech and closing the curtain on our food production is winning, then yes, they’ve won,” Wayne Pacelle, the executive director of the Humane Society of the United States, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast Tuesday night on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline.
The new state laws are part of a campaign being waged by lobbyists for the agriculture industry to put an end to the undercover videos that have cast a harsh light on the operations of large-scale farms, often called factory farms by their critics.
The videos have led to public outrage over horrific conditions and the cruel mistreatment of animals in farms across the country.
Last year, video taken at a California slaughterhouse showed workers using electric prods on cattle that could barely walk.
A 2011 undercover video revealed workers at a major turkey farm kicking and stomping birds, some of them with open wounds and exposed flesh.
A 2010 investigation at a Virginia pork producer showed pregnant pigs crammed into small “gestation crates,” many of the animals with large open sores.
In 2008, undercover video at a Chino, California slaughterhouse revealed how diseased, or “downer,” cows were being used for beef sold to consumers in grocery stores. That investigation led to the country’s largest-ever meat recall and a state law banning the use of such downed cattle.
The farm groups say they too are appalled by animal cruelty, but that the exposés by animal rights groups are not the best way to solve the problem.
Legislation to stop the undercover videos has already been introduced this year in the legislatures of at least five states: New Hampshire, Indiana, Nebraska, Wyoming and Arkansas.
Other states where animal rights groups expect legislation to be introduced include Minnesota, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In the debate over the legislation in Utah last year, lawmakers referred to the animal welfare groups as “terrorists” and the enemy of farmers.
“This is about a group of people that want to put us out of business, make no mistake about it,” said Utah state Rep. Mike Noel.
The law passed in Iowa in 2012 just a few months after an ABC News report that featured undercover video made by an investigator for Mercy for Animals who worked at a large egg factory in Iowa.
The report led to new procedures at the egg factory, but if the undercover investigator did the same thing now he would face prosecution under the new law.
“If somebody comes on somebody else’s property, through fraud or deception or lying, that is a serious violation of people’ rights,” said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad when he signed the bill into law.
Supporters of the legislation, including the Iowa Farm Bureau, say the bills do not infringe on First Amendment rights because they focus only on “the lying” done by activists and other individuals who “fraudulently gain access to a farm with intent to cause harm.”
“I don’t know what greater good can ever come from lying,” said Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill last year.
In Utah, one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. David Hinkin, said, “If I was to say I think that some lady’s abusing her husband and I want to go hide cameras in her house, is that right?”
Animal activists groups say the laws do, indeed, interfere with freedom of speech and they intend to challenge the laws in court.
“Agribusiness interests, rather than trying to prevent cruelty to animals, are trying to prevent the public from seeing what’s going on on factory farms in the United States,” said the Humane Society’s Pacelle. “You will never stop the abuse if you shut the cameras down.”
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