Most of us are omnivores, which means we eat a lot of things to satisfy our appetites — including meat. And meat comes from a mix of animals, wild and domestic. On the domestic front, we rely on an efficient agricultural industry to supply the nation with chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb and an assortment of other more exotic meats.
We also consume a lot of dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. And that means some states are home to a lot of dairy cattle. Idaho ranks third behind California and Wisconsin in the production of milk and cheese.
In the midst of all this animal production, some inadvertent cruelty occurs. You don’t pack animals in small cages or push herds into chutes without bumps and bruises. And we don’t wait for animals to die of natural causes before turning them into chops, steaks or wings.
But there is something sinister about allowing domestic livestock to be tortured or maimed by workers who seem indifferent to the suffering.
Animal rights groups have complained about these kinds of animal abuses for years. They asked for action from a myriad of agencies responsible for regulating how livestock or poultry operations handle these living creatures. And the answer to allegations of animal abuse was often: “Where’s the proof?”
Animal rights groups decided to get their proof by going undercover. They’ve done the same thing to expose abuses at “puppy mills” or dog fighting operations.
Videos don’t lie.
In 2012 the animal rights group Mercy for Animals infiltrated Bettencourt Dairies near Twin Falls with someone who had gained employment there and that undercover worker caught examples of abuse by other workers on video. The captured scenes included cows being deliberately lashed, beaten and stomped.
The dairy fired five people and installed surveillance cameras to stop future activities of inflicting unnecessary pain on the cows.
Now the dairy industry in Idaho wants the Idaho Legislature to make it a crime for people to go undercover to discover animal abuse. They are comparing the activities of animal rights groups to “terrorists.”
The legislation, which passed the Idaho Senate last Friday, is now in the Idaho House awaiting a hearing. The new law would punish people who cause damage or videotape farm work after entering through “force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.” It would make each violation a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Opponents have labeled the proposed legislation an “Ag-gag” bill and claim it is a way for the agricultural industry to hide mistreatment of animals.
Proponents say the law is needed to protect private business from economic damages and illegal trespass.
“There is an anti-animal agricultural agenda, which goes to great lengths to misrepresent what happens in our industry,” Jared Brackett, president of the Idaho Cattle Association, told the Twin Falls Times-News recently.
And there is little doubt that an element in this country is opposed to raising and killing any animals. There is an even larger group that thinks steaks grow inside plastic-covered packages or fried chicken generates itself in a bucket.
To produce meat and dairy products means animals are confined, managed and eventually killed. Most people don’t want to see the nitty-gritty of this process. However, we should all expect that all animals are treated humanely.
Legislation like that being considered in Idaho is similar to bills already passed in Utah, Montana and Kansas. The Utah bill is being challenged in court on the argument it violates free speech.
One thing is for certain — animals cannot speak up for themselves.