By Laura Shunk
By Zachary Feldman
By Jon Campbell and Laura Shunk
By Laura Shunk
By Scarlett Lindeman
By Susannah Skiver Barton
By Laura Shunk
By Zachary Feldman
And that was just the opening sentence.
Yet Holt is trumped by Tim Sappington, a former maintenance contractor with Valley Meat in Roswell, New Mexico, which hopes to become the first U.S. slaughterhouse in years to produce horse meat for consumption in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Sappington uploaded a video to YouTube—since removed—showing him petting a horse. "To all you animal activists," he said to the camera, "fuck you." He then shot the horse point-blank in the head.
Since Sappington would use the horse for meat, it was perfectly legal. Valley Meat fired him anyway.
Last year, as undercover videos pushed Big Ag to desperation, the industry began to temper its language. Iowa's law is essentially a sanitized version of ALEC's bill, cleansed of hysteria and any mention of terrorist registries.
But despite the more diplomatic approach, farmers have been unable to legislate away the images caught on tape. While Big Ag may have politicians on speed-dial, competing in the egalitarian frontier of the Internet isn't its strong suit.
For activists, the turning point in the fight seemed to arrive in 2007, after an HSUS investigation of the Hallmark Meat Packing Company.
The Chino, California, slaughterhouse was a major supplier to the nation's school-lunch program, delivering beef to 36 states.
But HSUS's video showed "downer" cows—those too frail or diseased to walk—being pushed by forklift to slaughter. The practice is illegal, since sick animals heighten the risk of introducing E. coli, salmonella, and mad cow disease into the food supply.
After Chino, the videos kept coming, each showing conditions that seemed more 1913 than 2013. As one veterinarian puts it, "Ninety-nine percent of the people don't know where their food comes from." And what they saw made them queasy.
MFA alone has produced 20 investigations in just the past few years.
It isn't especially difficult—at least the infiltration part. Undercover workers are merely directed to apply at large farms. Because the labor is hard and the wages poor—usually under $10 an hour—high turnover plays to an activist's advantage. It's not uncommon to land a job within a day or two. "They use their real names and their real Social Security numbers," says Matt Rice, head of MFA's investigative team.
He's never had an undercover worker caught. Neither has Sweetland of HSUS.
Groups like the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the country's largest coalition of farmers and ranchers, occasionally try to run counter-espionage.
"Jane" says she once caught a spy at an animal-rights conference with a camera hidden in his food. Rice knows of similar attempts, but he dismisses them with a laugh. Video of his group's conferences is readily available to anyone with Internet access.
Over time, the agriculture lobby has appeared increasingly impotent. Even smaller family farms—once the very definition of wholesome Americana—have shown up on film as incubators of depravity.
Ask "Pete," a Texan who's been undercover for 11 years and had his work featured in two HBO specials.
"I know that it sounds kind of unbelievable, that every place out there is breaking the law," he says. "I always tell people that I challenge anyone to try to prove me wrong. Get hired at a slaughterhouse or a farm and go work there. I absolutely promise you you'll find exactly what we find on our investigations."
One of his favorite jobs—if you can call it that—was going undercover at Conklin Farms in 2010. The small dairy in Plain City, Ohio, had just three employees. But its workers compensated for size with sadism.
Pete's video opens with a worker repeatedly stomping on a cow's head. It goes on to show employees stabbing animals in the face with pitchforks, beating their heads with crowbars, punching cows in their udders, and body-slamming calves to the ground.
One worker is caught on tape exuberantly describing how they "beat the fuck out of this cow. We stabbed her. . . . I beat that fucker till her face was this big around."
In a rare case of tough justice, employee Billy Joe Gregg was sentenced to eight months in jail after pleading guilty to animal cruelty.
But as Pete notes, Gregg might still be torturing cows if not for MFA's undercover work. There isn't a single federal law governing the welfare of farm animals, he says. "There's no investigative body in the country that does that, so it falls on civilians to do it."
But if Big Ag has its way, those civilians will soon be criminals.
"It's a huge embarrassment to have investigation after investigation where your employees are beating animals, kicking them and throwing them," says Sweetland. "I think they're sick of having to make excuses for themselves. One way to stop it is to make it illegal to do these undercover investigations. They refuse to fix the problem, which is this inherently cruel system."
New Mexico state Senator Cliff Pirtle is wary of the reporter on the phone. The Republican dairyman can trace his family's farming roots in this country back to the 1700s. He can't comprehend how people like him—once viewed as the salt of the earth—are now being framed as agents of misery.
The author didn't mention how New York City politicians have fought tooth and nail for the cheapest possible milk out of rural NY. The forces driving farms upstate to larger and larger scale have included the lack of a fair price for the smaller scale family sized farms to sustain themselves. The stage for a decade of massive consolidation in NY's farms was set in 1998 when NY politicians shouted down the efforts of NY's family farmers to collective bargaining in the form of the Northeast Dairy Compact. I remember the NY Times editorializing that a fair price to the farmers Upstate was not justified. NYC food groups called it a "milk tax on the poor." (A phrase coined with the help of focus groups and professionals hired by the huge processors). Editorials written to the Times demanded large scale corporate farms that were more "efficient" than the outdated family farms. The public has demanded the cheapest food, excoriating farm families as we fought to survive. If you don't believe me google "Have a cow" "dairy compact."
Unfortunately, animal by-products are used for car tires, and other commodities, not just food. I believe it is in the pursuit of more profits for slaughterhouse owners that these animals have to be bashed, electrocuted and slaughtered by homicidal maniacs who laugh at the torturing, all in the name of greed. A list of farmers and slaughterhouses, poultry farms, fish canneries, puppy mills, furriers, zoos, circuses, puppy mills and other harbingers of torture should be on a list that is available for the consumer. That way we can actively not support such ruthless and cruel animal enterprises. The beef and pork industries, as well as animal research labs are the biggest supports of covering up their terroristic practices. They need to be arrested and put in prison before they kill their family dogs, beat their kids senseless or terrorize their homes. What kinds of criminally insane people work in slaughterhouses?
Bless you for writing this. I just don't understand — it's beyond comprehension — how people can think some mammals are "cute" and scream to the rafters about the slightest abuse (screaming at me when my rescued dogs are tied up outside a grocery store) and yet blithely consume animal products produced under the most appalling conditions. I.S. Singer said it best: For animals, every day is Treblinka.
heartbreaking, humbling and horrific - but a must read. not just for those who continue to eat meat/dairy, but for those of us who don't so that we can be proud of each animal saved from this inhumanity. thank you for this coverage and thank you to cody and all others who suffer sleepless nights and ptsd because of their undercover work. it is critical to change and i, for one, am very grateful.
Village Voice, because this is an incredible and highly valuable story YOU NEED to give the readers a way to post this on ALL social media and to send out multiple emails especially to legislators on state and federal levels. This is the simplest problem facing our nation for us to deal with and eradicate. NO ONE wants to eat the flesh of animals who are abused and totured. Because all that negativity goes into bodies and translates into more negativity meaning all sorts of diseases and death.
Anyone who would want to work in these places (unless as an undercover investigator) has psychopathic tendencies. The behaviours of the employees are seriously sick and twisted and it's scary that these people are wandering around free in our society. There should be overt shaming and I would like to see these individuals faces and actions displayed in the videos that are made. There should be harsh consequences for this behaviour.
I nominate PETE KOTZ for tne next non-fiction PULITZER PRIZE . An admirable, all-encompassing, compassionate and eye-opening piece . And thousands of thanks to the brave reporters who have risked much to uncover the horrible criminal situations systematic to the modern agriculture and farming practices. The "terrorists" are those who terrorize animals, it is them who should be imprisoned . We must work to pass laws protecting all animals, non merely pets . Non-humans deserve the same respect humans expect . In the meantime, let us do what we can : do not eat animals and fewer will suffer . There's no such event as HUMANE slaughter . Thank you again, Mr. Kotz
Thank you for this article, but there are a few inaccuracies (perhaps you were purposely misled by the industry representatives?). Gestation crates for sows do not prevent piglet deaths - "farrowing crates" are what the sows must live in AFTER giving birth. Gestation crates are used to confine sows that are merely pregnant - for the three months, three weeks and three days of their pregnancy.
Cows, contrary to the assertions of your source, do enjoy moving around quite a bit. Since they are grazing animals, their natural inclination is to roam quite a bit during the day, foraging for food. Naturally, if they are given food from feeders and not allowed on pasture, they would have no reason to roam, and therefore might appear "lazy" to people who see them as nothing but commodities.
And if I hear one more industry apologist declare how animals "sacrifice" themselves for the greater good of humans, I'm going to scream. I'm fairly certain if you bothered to ask an animal if she'd rather live than become someone's dinner, she wouldn't "sacrifice" herself for a gluttonous human's momentary pleasure.
Yes, the only way to not be responsible for such horrific cruelty is to reject animal products and opt for a vegan diet - which is also better for human health and the planet's health. It's also a delicious, convenient, very enjoyable way to eat!! See: http://www.humanemyth.org and http://www.VRG.org
So happy you posted this. So many people are not aware of where and how their animal products are brought to their plates. If people knew, most people would not consume it!