By Tom Philpott
On Friday, Iowa governor Terry Branstad signed a bill that will make it much more difficult for animal-welfare advocates to sneak cameras into Iowa’s factory livestock farms. The bill’s fate is being watched nationwide, because Iowa’s factory farms grow more hogs and keep more egg-laying hens than those of any other state.
The news got me to thinking of my own attempt, years ago, to peer inside of an animal factory.
I was on a tour of a rural Iowa county, given by some farmers who were angry that massive hog-raising facilities had been plunked down in their community (I wrote about it here). At one point, we got out of the van so I could gape at two rows of such low-slung buildings, each holding thousands of hogs. A vast manure cesspool separated the two rows.
Even more repellent than the smell—which nearly dropped me to my knees—was the large man who came barreling out of one facility to demand to know what we were up to. When we informed him that we were citizens standing on a public road, he reminded us that just beyond that road lay private property, and we’d be well-advised not to set foot on it. I asked him if I could have a look inside one of the buildings. He shot me a glare and turned on his heel, barking into his cellphone as returned to his lair. I took the response as a “no,” and we moved on.
The scene neatly encapsulated the terms of factory meat farming. The industry insists on its right to impose its excesses on society—the unspeakable buildup of toxic manure, which pollutes air and streams—but refuses to let society peer in to see what’s going on behind the walls. We are forced to smell, in other words, but refused the right to see.
For several years now, animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society of the US and Mercy for Animals have pursued a kind of guerrilla watchdog strategy for combating this state of affairs. They plant undercover agents to seek jobs at the facilities, and when they’re hired, the agents eventually sneak in cameras and document the scene. As the regulatory agencies like USDA, EPA, and FDA have shown little appetite to inform the public about factory farm practices—much less rein them in—these groups have become our shadow regulators, our eyes on the factory-farm floor.
Read more from Mother Jones: http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/03/will-agribiz-tied-governor-keep-iowas-factory-farms-shielded-view