Commentary: Stop the (video) madness

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A number of states are weighing passage of bills that would require people who record alleged cruelty to livestock to report that incident and turn over the unedited video or photographs to local law enforcement.

For example, New Hampshire is currently considering House Bill 110, which states that:

“Any person who records any activity that falls under paragraph III [detailing abuse and cruelty] as committed against livestock shall have a duty to report such activities to law enforcement authorities and shall submit any unedited photographs or video recordings to the law enforcement authorities within 24 hours of the recording’s creation.”

Pretty straightforward, and no different from similar state laws regarding the observation of a crime. As a citizen, you are obligated to report criminal activity you may have witnessedto the authorities.

Of course, there are additional complications regarding incidents of animal cruelty. Since PETA, HSUS and others have made a career out of paying—or at least encouraging—partisans opposed to meat production to obtain jobs, sneak into facilities or otherwise obtain clandestine video footage of livestock and packing plant operations, these latest batch of laws, such as New Hampshire’s, are aimed at curbing specific behavior: Taping alleged animal cruelty, but then holding onto or brokering the footage as a way to leverage policymakers.

The goal ought to be preventing or ending animal cruelty. But as the now-infamous incident involving the Hallmark Packing beef plant in California demonstrated, animal rights groups sometimes wait weeks or months to “release” their video footage. That not only renders the authenticity of such videos and photos suspect, but if the goal is to end what the activists consider abusive treatment, waiting to turn over evidence to law enforcement or USDA officials is tantamount to aiding and abetting the (alleged) cruelty.

Objections without merit

As expected, the Humane Society of the United States and other vegan activist groups are protesting these laws. Unfortunately, their arguments are even weaker than the doctored footage they put forward as evidence of bad behavior on the part of producers and packers.

As an analysis from the Center for Consumer Freedom points out, there are three arguments being raised:

  1. The laws infringe on free speech
  2. The laws could cover up illegal acts
  3. The laws could harm whistleblowers

As for the free speech argument, that’s ludicrous. These laws won’t prohibit anyone contacting media with their evidence—but then they must report it to the authorities. There is no free speech infringement.

As for a potential cover-up, that’s ridiculous, since the requirement is that law enforcement be notified. No matter what kind of evidence anyone captures about any alleged crime, it’s up the police and the courts to determine if anyone will be prosecuted and for what offense. If animal activists are worried about “bad actors” covering up their abuse, the best response is immediate reporting of such behavior to the cops.

As for whistleblowers, they are fully protected—as long as they report any apparent illegal activity to the authorities within 48 hours. As the Center’s news release noted, activists can still film operations, but they now have a duty to report those activities and turn over their evidence.

Let’s cut to the chase here: Activists oppose these laws not because they’re worried about the First Amendment or alleged crimes going unreported, but because they want to retain the option of holding onto—and, one must acknowledge, to possibly editing—their video footage and photos for maximum shock value. Most animal rights group videos end up as fund-raising tools, not exculpatory evidence.

That’s why they’re protesting these laws: Because HSUS and otherswould no longer be able to doctor their video clips—or even falsify scenes to make it seem as if extraordinary circumstances are typical of everyday operations.

Hopefully, their protests will beseen for what they are: A giant smokescreen they hope will obscure their real motives.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Wisconsin  |  March, 29, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Also these freaks are not whistleblowers. They are skulking scabs on a covert mission to misrepresent and vandalize an entire industry. What protection do they require or deserve? About as deserving as your average sneak thief.

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