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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Big Ag’s Power Grab in the Grand Canyon State

Factory farming profiteers know that consumers and voters care about animal welfare, and they increasingly try to dress up their activities and business models as having the best interests of animals in mind.


They talk about gestation crates keeping pigs safe from each other—of course, if you lived your life in a closet you’d never get hit by a car, but it wouldn’t be much of a life.

They introduce “ag-gag” bills requiring anyone who documents or records animal abuse to turn such evidence over to authorities immediately. It sounds good at first blush, but in practice it prevents whistleblowers from documenting a pattern of abuse that’s not easily dismissed as a fluke incident. And so on.

Their latest gambit of deception is unfolding in Arizona, where the legislature has passed House Bill 2150, which contains some red herring provisions to give it the illusion of being pro-animal welfare. In reality, the bill would negatively impact the welfare of millions of animals in Arizona, and it serves no good purpose for the state, from any perspective. Among other things:

• It removes farm animals from the regular animal cruelty code and puts them in a separate code, where the industry can more readily weaken those standards in the future.
• It strips municipalities and counties of their right to promulgate stronger animal welfare protections.
• It would remove the crimes of “abandonment” and “medical neglect” for livestock and poultry, placing a heavier burden on prosecutors and law enforcement when they confront these situations.
• It has whistleblower-suppression implications that could prevent food safety issues and animal abuse on factory farms from being exposed.

As Linda Valdez wrote in the Arizona Republic,

Like so much of what Arizona's lawmakers are doing this year, the bill also weakens local control by prohibiting "a county, city or town from enacting an ordinance that relates to the treatment of livestock, poultry or animal husbandry practices that is more prohibitive or restrictive than current law."

This would prevent cities from banning backyard slaughter of animals. Nor could local communities step in to correct other animal husbandry "practices" that might occur across the alley from your house.

The Arizona Humane Society is among the many groups opposing this legislation, noting that all animals, including horses and farm animals, deserve humane treatment. The group wrote:

Even a child in kindergarten knows that cattle, sheep and horses are animals. However, under HB2150, livestock and poultry would be excluded from Arizona’s definition of animals found in our criminal code. Since they will no longer be considered animals, the 13 categories of animal abuse currently on the books will no longer protect these animals.

Arizona voters share this view and have sided with animal protection time and again in statewide elections to ban cockfighting, restrict steel-jawed leghold traps, and improve the treatment of animals on factory farms. In 2006, voters passed Proposition 204, banning the use of veal crates and pig gestation crates, with an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote, and it was favored in 12 of the state’s 15 counties.

For special interest groups to try to remove anti-cruelty protections for farm animals now flies in the face of what Arizonans want. It’s also an affront to the democratic process through which generations of Arizonans have sought to include animals within the protective ambit of their state’s laws and value set.

When Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ran for office last year, he issued a policy statement outlining his views on animal welfare and enforcement, declaring, “I do not support exemptions in our anti-cruelty codes for any class of domesticated animals. No animal should be the victim of unspeakable cruelty.”

He was right. And he should veto this power grab by the state legislature that would gut the cruelty law with loopholes and exemptions, take away local control from municipalities, and put so many animals at risk. That kind of maneuvering has no place in a modern world, one in which the needs of animals have become a matter of serious social, cultural, and political importance.


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