Civil disobedience comes to farm country

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003–

ITHACA, TOLEDO, SALT LAKE CITY, TEXAS
CITY, TWIN FALLS–Purported anti-terrorism bills
pushed in recent legislative sessions by
lawmakers in Texas, Oregon, Utah, and
Pennsylvania, among other states, have sought
to criminalize almost any unauthorized exposure
of anything done in the name of agriculture.
Factory farmers are finding that even
when they win convictions of activists who enter
their property to rescue animals and document
suffering, they lose in the court of public
opinion. Prosecuting rescuers, moreover,
appears to increase the public perception that
the farmers are cruel–even when the farms are
traditional family operations.


Consider the case of Susan E. Costen.
Costen, 38, a farm manager for the
Ithaca, New York branch of Farm Sanctuary, on
November 22, 2002 responded to a call about an
injured lamb by visiting the property of sheep
farmer Rory Miller, in the nearby village of
Tyrone. Finding that Miller was not home,
Costen entered the barn, found the lamb, and
took him to the Cornell University veterinary
teaching hospital, where he was euthanized.
On December 3 Costen was charged with
third degree felony burglary. The charge was
reduced to misdemeanor criminal trespass on
January 27, because Costen had no prior criminal
record.
After Farm Sanctuary cofounder Gene
Bauston publicized the case in an e-mail alert,
Schuyler County district attorney Joseph Fazzary
received more than 1,500 messages urging him to
drop all charges.
Instead Fazzary pressed the case.
Costen on March 17 plea-bargained a
sentence of 100 hours of community service, and
was ordered to write Miller a letter of apology,
to accompany restitution of $200 to Miller for
the lost value of the lamb.
But Miller won little if any sympathy
from nationally syndicated news coverage of the
case. Costen, conversely, was widely praised
as a Good Samaritan
Bauston may have anticipated that public
opinion would favor Costen from his own
experience in 2000, after he rescued two
chickens from a trash can on the property of the
New Jersey egg producer ISE America. Bauston won
a rare cruelty conviction against ISE America,
which was fined $250 plus court costs.
The ISE America defense attorney sought
immunity from prosecution under the New Jersey
Right-to-Farm Act, whch pertains to waste
disposal.
Asked Central Warren Municipal Court
Judge Joseph Steinhardt, “Isn’t there a big
distinction between manure and live animals?”
Responded the ISE defense, “No, your honor.”
Even had ISE been acquitted, those three
words made for Bauston the very point that he had
hoped to make: factory farmers treat their
animals like refuse.

A hen named Hope

As the Costen case was resolved,
prosecutor Richard Howell of Darke County, Ohio,
was still reviewing competing complaints brought
to him weeks earlier by Weaver Brothers Egg Farm
president Tim Weaver and teenagers Nathan Runkle
and Derek Koons, cofounders of the local
activist group Mercy for Animals.
After videotaping conditions at the
Buckeye and Delay egg farms in 2001, Runkle and
Koons in December 2002 conducted an unauthorized
videotaped inspection of Weaver Brothers.
“We documented really callous acts of
egregious cruelty, neglect, and abuse to the
hens,” Runkle told Columbus Blade regional
bureau chief James Drew.
Runkle and Koons also rescued a hen they
named Hope. For that, Weaver reportedly asked
that Runkle and Koons be charged with trespassing
and theft. The Ohio Department of Agriculture
called their work a “biosecurity hazard.” United
Egg Producers, Inc., indirectly accused Runkle
and Koons of “bioterrorism.”
But the heated rhetoric did not seem to
convince the public, especially when Hope the
hen joined the innocuous-appearing Runkle and
Koons for TV interviews.

Courting arrest

Compassion Over Killing founder Paul
Shapiro, 23, and director Myun Park, 32, of
Washington D.C., “court arrest by entering
chicken sheds at night and filming the rows of
hens crammed 10 to a cage the size of a
file-drawer cabinet,” Elizabeth Becker of The
New York Times reported in December 2002, after
the COK team made at least their third visit to
Red Bird Egg Farms, of Millington, Maryland.
“They get close-ups of swollen eyes,
infected skin, and shattered wings entangled in
cage wire,” Becker continued.
Yet despite “courting arrest,” Shapiro
and Park do not actually seem to be getting
arrested for their work, even after rescuing 10
hens from Red Bird Egg Farms on November 20,
2002. This may be because agribusiness in the
media-savvy Washington D.C. area is aware that
prosecuting them could become a public relations
fiasco.
The hens taken in November “were in dire
need of immediate care,” claimed a COK account
of the action. “These hens will live out the
rest of their lives free from the misery of
factory farming,” COK pledged.
Altogether, says the COK web site,
“Five investigations at commercial egg farms in
the U.S. have been conducted in just two years.
Documentation of extreme cruelty at facilities in
Minnesota, Maryland, and Ohio demonstrates that
animal abuse is the norm, not the exception, in
commercial egg production. The six major egg
producers exposed in the five investigations
since January 2001 are not the ‘bad apples,’ of
the egg industry, but rather reflect the
inherent problems of keeping hens in battery
cages.”

Circle Four

United Animal Rights Coalition founder
Sean Diener, of Salt Lake City, Utah, meanwhile
spent the winter of 2002-2003 daring Circle Four
Farms and Beaver County Sheriff Ken Yardley to
prosecute UARC members who in September and
December 2002 entered some of the Circle Four hog
barns at Milford, Utah, without permission to
photograph and videotape the conditions.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, no charges had been filed.
On December 20, Diener told news media,
the UARC intruders removed two small sickly
piglets, restored them to health, and
eventually placed them at a sanctuary.
Circle Four, the 15th largest hog
producer in the U.S., sends a million pigs per
year to slaughter. Management had not even
noticed that any piglets were missing. After
Diener disclosed the incident, however, Circle
Four asked Yardley to prosecute, setting a value
of $30 apiece on the piglets.
“In Utah, farmers are not subject to
animal cruelty laws, but stealing one of their
animals is considered a felony,” pointed out
Brent Israelsen of the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Circle Four Farms operations manager Erik
Jacobsen, like United Egg Producers in Ohio,
tried to play on fears of terrorism.
“It concerns us greatly that someone
would break into our farms, especially in light
of national concern about bioterrorism,”
Jacobsen declared. “These people put our herd at
risk because they didn’t follow our biosecurity
protocol.”
But Diener said his team did wear the
kinds of protective clothing that Circle Four
employees are required to wear.
The concern professed by Circle Four
sounded hollow, in any event, beside the
documented history of the facility as a
biological safety hazard.
Starting to raise hogs in 1995, Circle
Four was fined $6,800 for contaminating
groundwater with an estimated 80,000 gallons of
liquefied manure in mid-1996. Circle Four was
fined again in 1998 after nine workers were
overcome by hog manure fumes in two separate
incidents. Other manure leakage incidents
occurred in 1999, 2000, and 2001, bringing
another $35,000 in fines.
The Utah Bureau of Epidemiology disclosed
in January 2000 that residents of Milford had
suffered elevated rates of diarrhea-causing
illnesses and respiratory illnesses, 1992-1998,
with 409 diarrheal illnesses and 517 respiratory
illnesses per 10,000 residents in 1997. The
statewide rate of diarrheal illness was
20/10,000, and the statewide rate of respiratory
illness was 73/10,000.
Because the data showed a rising trend
even before Circle Four opened, the relationship
of the symptoms to alleged air and water
contamination was unclear, but the problems
surged after Circle Four expanded up to
full-scale operation.
A faulty ventilation system contributed
to the deaths of 12,000 pigs in a July 2001 fire
at Circle Four. Another ventilation problem
killed 45 sows in November 2002.
After years of obtaining legislative
concessions to fend off complaining neighbors,
Circle Four in February 2003 announced that it
will invest $20 million in building a refinery
which is intended to prevent pollution by
converting hog slurry into diesel fuel.
The controversy ignited by the UARC
activity escalated in late January 2003 when
former Circle Four employees Wayne and Krysta
Jenson, of Cedar City, Utah, described to news
media the abuses of pigs they had witnessed.
Starting work at Circle Four on November
28, 2001, the Jensons quit just 16 days later,
they said, after seeing piglets who failed to
grow to five pounds in weight within a week being
beaten to death and seeing castrations awkwardly
performed with dull tools and no anesthetic.
Raised on a sheep ranch where castration of young
rams without anesthetic was also a routine chore,
Wayne Jenson said he saw piglets disembowled by
the ineptitude of some workers at Circle Four.
Wayne Jenson also described severe
beatings of sows who resisted being moved.
Krysta Jenson described the frantic
behavior of sows whose piglets had just been
taken away to be fattened for slaughter.
Responded National Pork Board assistant
vice president for veterinary issues Paul
Sundberg, “I’m not so sure I would subscribe to
the theory that this is a traumatic experience to
the mother.”
This may not have reassured many human
mothers, and contradicted the standard training
of hog handlers, who are typically warned that
sows can become quite dangerous if they sense
that their piglets are in jeopardy.
Open rescue
“Open rescue,” as Australian animal
advocate Patty Mark terms the tactic of removing
sick and injured animals from factory farms and
then publicizing the cases, has been practiced
for at least a decade Down Under.
“We began our open rescue work in 1993,”
Mark told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Mark at the time had
already been campaigning on behalf of farm
animals, especially battery-caged hens, for a
dozen years, but like other farm animal
advocates had enjoyed little success. Among farm
animal causes, only the suffering of sheep in
live export attracted much media attention Down
Under, and even within the animal rights
movement the most prominent concerns involved
dogs, cats, wildlife, and animals used in
laboratories.
Mark and friends turned to open rescue
more-or-less as a desperation tactic–but it
proved to be perhaps the most effective form of
civil disobedience yet undertaken in connection
with any animal issue.
“If there is no damage done, only rescue
of animals, and if the TV footage shows these
very ill and crippled little birds being lovingly
held and given aid, then all the sympathy is
with the rescuers,” Mark told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“This has been born out time and time again,
every time we are in the courts. At this point
in time it is almost impossible for our rescue
team to get arrested. The industry wants nothing
to do with this and never presses charges any
more. We can virtually break-and-enter at any
factory farm we choose. I think the industry has
realized,” Mark continued, “that us taking the
sick and injured and dead birds out of the cages
does them far less damage than when there is a
big court case. But this only developed after we
had a ten-year run of really good media against
the industry, while our rescue team had never
encountered any adverse response from the public.”
Following the rescue of 20 broiler
chickens in January 2003, Mark said, “I even
wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Police stating
that we had broken the door down to get in,” and
giving further details of allegedly illegal acts
committed to retrieve the birds. “This letter
was totally ignored. I also rang the local
police station near the factory farm,” Mark
added, “and they too totally ignored me. I was
convicted of burglary and theft in connection
with a rescue in Tasmania last year,” Mark
acknowledged. “The magistrate then let myself
and co-defendant Pam Clarke walk free from the
courtroom after the verdict, even though we said
we would not pay the fine he gave us, and each
owe thousands of dollars in unpaid previous
fines.”
Mark recently founded the web site
<www.openrescue.org> to encourage and document
the spread of open rescue to the U.S., Europe,
and elsewhere.
According to a detailed account posted to
the site, the Austrian organization Verein Gegen
Tierfabriken (Association Against Animal
Factories) “conducted the first known European
open rescue of battery hens” on March 14, 2003.
The Austrian activists and several
reporters “entered a battery farm owned by
Florian Zichtl in Lower Austria,” the web
account states, documenting “poisonous air,”
cages with 17% less space than European Union
regulations require, “15 dead hens inside cages,
and seriously injured and weak and dying birds
everywhere. We took seven birds with us,” the
rescuers said, “and drove straight to an
emergency vet in Vienna. We reported the rescue
to the authorities, and detailed nine charges of
broken animal husbandry laws. We submitted
photographs and video footage of the conditions
inside the shed. The rescue received good media
coverage,” they continued, “and whether a case
will be brought against the rescuers is still
open.”

Opposition

The U.S. state-level legislative efforts
of agribusiness to squelch public discomfort
about animal care on factory farms by preventing
exposure parallels earlier pursuit of similar
legislation by the biomedical research industry.
It may likewise misjudge the level of mainstream
revulsion against cruelty that the public can
easily recognize.
Eleven years after PETA stopped
experiments by primate researcher Edward Taub and
seven years after PETA and 1 Trans-Species
Unlimited ended primate skull-crushing at the
University of Pennsylvania, each through the use
of clandestinely obtained photos and videotape,
biomedical research lobbyists backed by
agribusiness and the fur trade at last won
passage of the 1992 federal Animal Enterprise
Protection Act.
Yet if the10-year lobbying effort
accomplished anything substantive to ease public
mistrust of biomedical research, the evidence is
not visible. Rarely used, the Animal Enterprise
Protection Act has helped to put some alleged
Animal Liberation Front members in prison for
bombings and arsons, but these activities were
already illegal, and crossing state lines to
commit them already brought the crimes under
federal jurisdiction.
The Animal Enterprise Protection Act does
not appear to have stifled the flow of
clandestinely obtained information about either
laboratory activities or agribusiness to activist
groups and news media–not least because much of
the most damaging material has come all along
from biomedical researchers and agribusiness
insiders, who share the objections of activists
to avoidable animal suffering. A long
series of insider leaks to In Defense of Animals
and other activist groups, for instance,
brought the Coulston Foundation to economic
collapse in early 2002, followed by the mid-year
transfer of the Coulston chimpanzee colony to the
custody of the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care
in Florida.
Opinion research continues to show, as
in the 1980s, that the public has an adverse
response to arsons and vandalism committed in the
name of animal rights, but generally sees as
justified any nonviolent clandestine activity
that rescues a suffering animal.
Still more culturally indicative,
however, may be the changing response of
agricultural communities to disclosures about
routine cruelties that as recently as a decade
ago were mainly ignored, and were denied when
pointed out by activists.
In Texas City, Texas, for example, the
Texas City Sun in January 2003 gave prominent
attention to the allegation of Runge Park
livestock auction neighbor Amanda Bradshaw that a
dying cow was improperly left to freeze outdoors,
and was roughly chained and dragged after she
called local police and the Galveston County
sheriff.
In Twin Falls, Idaho, the Twin Falls
Times-News even more heavily covered similar
allegations against Dutch Touch Dairy owners and
prominent local philanthropists Jack and Tillie
Tuls–but the Tuls case involved many animals,
over many months.
Claims that Jack Tuls mistreated
“downers” first surfaced in August 2002 after
contractor Michael Cody Prestin sued the Dutch
Touch Dairy for nonpayment of debts, and former
Dutch Touch office secretary Jo Anderson resigned.
On December 27, 2002, the Times-News
filed a public records request with the Idaho
Department of Agriculture to obtain inspection
reports on the alleged incidents produced by
state dairy inspector Tami Frank.
A month later Times-News reporter
Jennifer Sandmann revealed that criminal charges
would not be pursued, “although state
investigators say they found evidence of animal
cruelty, including burial of a live cow and
inhumane treatment of sick and dying cows.”
Jack and Tillie Tuls did, however, pay
a fine of $5,000 for improper disposal of dead
animals.
The Sandmann exposé of the evidence
against them was among the longest articles
produced by the Times-News staff in the first
quarter of 2003.
A decade ago such detailed accounts –and such
vigorous follow-up–were provided only by a few
animal rights groups. Discussion of the
treatment of “downers” in farm country
periodicals, reflecting the attitudes of their
audience, mostly railed against “city people” and
“do-gooders” who purportedly did not know where
their food came from.
Maintaining denial that farm animals
suffer is getting harder–even in farm country.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *