New Internationalist

Big agribusiness is funding the Eco Terrorism Act

I’m always a bit sceptical when people claim that politicians are controlled by corporations. Generally speaking, I think Western governments are reasonably trustworthy. So the more I research the individuals and organizations behind the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, the more devastated I am by the blatant corruption I find.

Factory farmed chickensFor those who aren’t aware, various states across the US are introducing bills that would not only criminalize undercover filming of animal abuse in factory farms, but would also place the filmmakers on a terrorist list. When I first heard about this, I assumed there was another side to the story, or that these were exaggerations. But no, if you read the draft bill for yourself, you’ll see what madness it is. What worries me the most is that what starts in the US inevitably spreads to the rest of the world.

What is particularly disingenuous about these bills is that they contain exceptions for employees of the government. Apparently, if a factory farmworker becomes aware of animal abuse and films it on his phone, he should be branded a terrorist and fined or imprisoned, but if someone acting on behalf of local government does the filming, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. This is a bill that claims a certain act is inherently wrong, unfair and terrorist, but then lets you off if you’re not a hippie.

So who is behind these bills? Many of the documents contain wording very similar to the original draft written by the lawyers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobby group posing as a non-profit, ‘non-partisan’ think tank. Until recently, ALEC managed to keep its methods and its membership secret; however, a leak followed by a Freedom of Information Act filing revealed that the organization drafts bills on behalf of transnational corporations, and persuades its legislative members (i.e. conservative Senators and Representatives) to introduce those bills. ALEC has secretly lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry, the gun industry, and against minimum wage laws, all behind closed doors. The organization is effectively a dating agency which matches legislators looking for donations to their campaign funds with big businesses who want an influence on the law.

Bearing this in mind, it’s interesting to delve into details of the Senators and Representatives who have introduced bills designed to prevent the uncovering of animal abuse.

Such a bill has already been passed in Iowa. It’s worth noting that the Senate bill was introduced by Tom Reily, whose biggest corporate campaign donor in 2008 was the Iowa Farm Bureau. Discussion on the bill was led by Senator Joe Seng, who got a quarter of his 2010 campaign money from the agricultural sector. The bill was passed by Governor Bradstad, who got about a tenth of his previous campaign donations from the agriculture industry.

In Pennsylvania, the bill was introduced by Representative Gary Haluska, whose biggest corporate campaign donor is the Pennsylvania Association Of Deer Farmers. In Arkansas, two similar bills which have just been passed into law were introduced by Senator Gary Stubblefield, whose biggest corporate campaign donor is Mountaire Corp, a huge factory-farming business. And in Missouri the bill was introduced by Representative Casey Guernsey whose biggest campaign donor is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, where 25,000 pigs are slaughtered a day and armed guards keep the immigrant workforce in line.

Everything about these bills stink. Firstly, undercover footage has frequently uncovered illegal animal abuse at factory farms; secondly, these investigations often reveal the meat produced by these businesses is not safe for consumption; thirdly, these bills are clearly being paid for by big agribusiness in a thoroughly undemocratic way; and fourthly, they are a brazen curtailment of freedom of speech. From a broader perspective, this sets a dangerous precedent: you may not care about animal rights or food safety, but the passing of these bills is a green flag to all other industries which want to ban undercover investigations. Perhaps the arms industry will try next, or the lobbying industry, or politicians, or finance. What happens in the US affects the rest of the world, and there are already concerns in Britain that factory-farm businesses will try something similar. The endgame of this process is massive curtailment of freedom of speech, and it has to be stopped.

Photo: Matt MacGillvray under a CC Licence

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