There is an interesting development going on in the United States which involves the never-ending conflict between animal rights groups and animal agriculture. Several states have proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job without disclosing ties to animal rights groups, writes the New York Times.
The bills also require people in possession of video documentation of animal abuse to hand over such documentation to the relevant authorities within 24-48 hours. Such legislation is clearly in the interest of any animals abused in those videos since the authorities can put a quick stop to the mistreatment. Yet animal rights organisations including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are battling the bills with all means, claiming violation of freedom of speech and generally talking as if democracy is bombed back to the iron age should the legislation pass.
That is being somewhat economical with the facts, to say the least. As folks over at the rather sarcastic (but very sober) Humanewatch have pointed out, notifying the authorities about animal abuse does not prohibit animal rights groups from speaking out their case. It is similar to how it is against the law in some areas to fail to report a crime.
The real reason for the animal rights organization’s opposition is, of course, that undercover footage has become a large part of their public profiling and fundraising machine. However, footage of the few wounded animals you may be able to find in the course of 48 hours does not paint the picture of widespread animal abuse which they need to get a public outcry.
To paint such a picture, animal rights activists either need to stay on the animal farm for a long time or visit a lot of farms. After a lot of filming, they need to splice together the footage where animals look most miserable (e.g. from farm hospitals where animals are in treatment, a detail always lost when the footage hit the news), organize a cut-and-dried public campaign complete with website, petitions, brochures, social media, press conferences, and political lobbying. It all takes time, and it certainly takes more than 24-48 hours. So no, animal rights organisations are not too keen on giving away their hard-earned undercover footage before they decide it is time to do so – even if animals meanwhile are suffering.
On the European side of the pond, animal rights organisations do not have the same tradition of ‘whisteblowers’ (animal rights activists seeking jobs in animal industries) as their North American counterparts. In Europe they simply jump the fence at night with cameras, and in a range of recent court cases in Denmark activists have argued that it is their right to do so referring to the European Human Rights Convention Article 10 that concerns freedom of speech and the expanded possibility for NGO’s to act as “public watchdogs”. In other words: their democratic right.
Since 2008, animal rights activists have illegally entered more than 500 European fur farms in various countries (in addition to a few hundred pig- and poultry farms). The normal, and often regulated, precautions taken by farmers to prevent the animals from diseases (especially when moving between farms) are, of course, not likely to be abided.
The well-orchestered campaigns to shut down the European fur industry on grounds of poor animal welfare normally takes off 4-6 months after the farms have been filmed. Named fur farmers are publicly accused of being animal abusers, even though the so-called documentation is not valid as evidence in our (otherwise democratically founded) courts of laws, not to mention the hardcore animal rights crime involving fire bombs, threats and vandalism which often are a direct consequence of the various anti-fur campaigns in Europe.
I have the deepest respect for animal rights supporters right to advocate for a society free of any human use of animals. But the roles as police officers is not theirs to hold, it is a role for the national animal welfare control authorities. At the moment more or less similar anti-fur campaigns take place in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic. In each of these countries the national control authorities – who, by the way, are veterinarians or otherwise educated for the job of assessing animal welfare – have stated that the general animal welfare conditions are acceptable. It is as simple as that.
Freedom of speech is not a free ride to claim whatever you want about other people, just because you don’t agree with them. On the contrary, one of the finest qualities of democracy is the progress obtained through debate. This however, requires a qualified and honest debate, and generally the animal rights movement fails miserably on that part.