Mercy for Animals video brings charges in Texas & fuels “ag gag” debate

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
LUBBOCK–Castro County, Texas district
attorney James Horton on May 26, 2011 issued
felony warrants for five former employees of the
E6 Cattle Company, in Hart, and Class A
misdemeanor warrants for E6 owner Kirt Espenson
and foreman Arturo Olmos. All seven defendants
could receive jail time. The charges resulted
from undercover video collected by the Chicago
organization Mercy for Animals, disclosed to
media on April 20, 2011.

“The video shows workers bashing in the
skulls of calves with hammers and pickaxes,
dragging them by their ears, standing on their
necks, and leaving them to die without
veterinary care,” summarized Mercy for Animals
publicist Gary Smith, who described E6 as “a
factory farm which rears nearly 10,000 calves
[per year] for dairy farms.”

Two “ag gag” bills die

The cruelty charges were filed one day
after the Minnesota legislature adjourned without
acting upon a bill which would have criminalized
producing and distributing undercover film or
video exposés of agribusiness, and just over two
weeks after a similar bill died in Florida.
Parallel bills remained pending in the Iowa and
New York legislatures.
“The legislation has only one purpose:
to hide factory-farming conditions from a public
that is beginning to think seriously about animal
rights and the way food is produced,”
editorialized The New York Times.
“These bills share common features,” the
Times continued. “Their definition of
agriculture is overly broad; they include puppy
mills, for instance. They treat undercover
investigators and whistle-blowers as if they were
agro-terrorists, determined to harm livestock or
damage facilities. They would criminalize
reporting on crop production as well. And they
are supported by the big guns of industrial
agriculture: Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, the
associations that represent pork producers,
dairy farmers and cattlemen, as well as poultry,
soybean, and corn growers.”
Concluded the Times, “Factory farming
confines animals in highly crowded, unnatural and
often unsanitary conditions. We need to know
more about what goes on behind those closed
doors, not less.”
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. factory
farming campaign manager Paul Shapiro, “The
efforts to ban such whistle-blowing are an
attempt to prevent investigations such as our
exposés of egg producers Rembrandt, Rose Acre,
and Cal-Maine, the turkey hatchery Willmar
Poultry, and the pork producer Smithfield
Foods-as well as our 2008 investigation of a
‘downed’ cow slaughter plant in California that
led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.”
Mercy for Animals undercover videos have
since since 2007 embarrassed the turkey producer
House of Raeford Farms, several California egg
ranches, Willet Dairy in upstate New York, the
Hy-Line North America chicken hatchery in Iowa,
the Country View Family Farms pig farming complex
in Pennsylvania, and Quality Egg in Maine.
Earlier in 2011 Mercy for Animals exposed workers
skinning catfish alive at the Catfish Corner
hatchery in eastern Dallas County, Texas.
“The frequency with which these videos
appear prohibits us from considering them as
isolated incidents, or accepting the excuse that
the producers were unaware that the abuses were
taking place,” said American Veterinary Medical
Association chief executive Ron DeHaven.
DeHaven, who formerly headed the USDA Animal &
Plant Health Inspection Service, called for
“more veterinary oversight on ranches and farms,
and at livestock markets and slaughter
Calling the E6 video “probably the worst
depiction of animal cruelty I’ve ever seen,”
Beef magazine contributing editor Troy Marshall
admitted, “The activists may be able to teach us
a few things. They have proven much more adept
than our internal mechanisms at uncovering this
kind of abuse.”

Other bad state bills

In addition to killing the Florida and
Minnesota “ag gag” bills, the close of 2011
legislative sessions meant the demise of a Nevada
bill which, “If passed, could have cut off wild
horses and burros from water on all lands in
Nevada,” summarized the American Wild Horse
Preservation Campaign.
Also defeated–for now–was a Colorado
bill which would have undone a 1992 ban on spring
bear hunting, enacted through a ballot
initiative. “The bill would have kept in place
the voters’ bans on hunting with dogs or bait or
killing bears with cubs,” wrote Joe Hanel of the
Durango Herald. “It passed an initial vote in
the house, with support from most Republicans
and a couple of Democrats. But three or four
members of both parties wavered during the
debate. Targeted lobbying appeared to snuff out
the bill,” Hanel said. Bill author J. Paul
Brown (R-Ignacio) indicated that he might
reintroduced it in 2012.

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