I would prefer to be contacted simply for “reporting without bias,” but Katie Cooper, the national radio producer actually said she was contacting me because I was about the only “dispassionate” reporter she could find covering the so-called “ag-gag” proposals being considered by 10 or 11 states this legislative season.
Okay, call me Joe Friday, but I was taught to drive down the center of the road and it’s hard to break old habits. So, being guilty as charged, I agreed to be on last Friday’s “To The Point,” hosted by one of radio’s great interviewers with one of those instantly recognizable voices, Warren Olney.
My role was to simply set up the issue, and comment on what the food safety interest is all about. Others on the panel were Emily Metz Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance; Wayne Pacelle from the Humane Society of the United States; and Timothy Pachirat, author of Every 12 Seconds.
You can listen and decided on your own, but I think it was probably good radio for the interchange among those three. Meredith has brought a more aggressive posture to the Animal Agriculture Alliance, making the case that motives of animal activists like Pacelle are not as pure as the driven snow.
But it was Professor Pachirat, whose book is based on his experiences and observations while working at an Omaha beef plant for six months that seemed to throw Pacelle at least a little bit. The author, who is now a professor at the New School in New York, said egregious film clips of animal abuse put out by the HSUS and other animal rights groups make villains out of the workers, many who are immigrants, who must make their living in this unavoidably grim business of death.
So the show drifted off with this philosophical discussion. Warren knows how to generate good radio. That’s for sure. No need to get back to me, but I was ready if he did.
Meredith had charged that animal activists often get away with withholding their evidence from the actual farm or ranch being targeted, and refuse to release the video from their undercover investigations without editing. Pacelle of course defended HSUS work.
I would have liked to turn the discussion back to that topic, because when you are talking about evidence and evidentiary standards, you are talking about something that is pretty important. Evidence and evidentiary standards are the business of the 50 states, not of interest groups in Washington D.C., and not of Emily or Wayne.
If asked to do that, the states might begin to find the middle ground on this issue. In the past week, a California Assembly committee may have done just that. It amended Assembly Bill (AB) 343 to increase the time for reporting animal abuse to law enforcement first from 24 hours to 48 hours, and then again to 120 hours.
That is the deadline for providing a “copy of the documentary evidence” to law enforcement without risking being charged with a violation and a $250 fine. With compliance, whoever provides the evidence cannot face any civil or criminal liability.
As amended, AB 343 says nothing in the law “shall limit or impede an ongoing investigation.” The California bill sounds like the beginnings of a compromise to me, maybe a pretty good one. Animal activists going undercover to bring about convictions for animal abuse should not be impeded by this language and should give animal agriculture a fair shot at the evidence.
Missing from the California bill is any of the silly language banning photography or trying to turn an employment application into a felony. In the states where these statutes have been on the books for more than 22 years, they haven’t been used. If they ever are used to prosecute somebody, the appeal to the nearest federal court will end it.
So let’s agree the evidence is sufficiently important to be subject to a public policy decision. The 120-hour rule seems reasonable to me. Handling the evidence should come ahead of any other consideration. I would like to have seen if I could have persuaded Emily and Wayne to agree on the 120-hour rule. It would have been such an upbeat note to end on.
In my dreams. I know.
P.S. An amendment exempting company security camera evidence from the 120-hour reporting requirement passed the Assembly committee Friday. Sigh.© Food Safety News