In February, Pirtle introduced a bill that would outlaw undercover videos in his state. But a strange thing happened between last year's legislative successes and what was supposed to be 2013's triumphant tidal wave.

The ag-gag movement began to self-destruct.

Measures attempting to criminalize activists' activities in states from New Hampshire to Minnesota, Pennsylvania to Indiana, have either stalled or died.

Cody Carlson, said of his undercover experience at New York's largest dairy farm: "It's incredibly overwhelming. Your brain can't process seeing this many animals crammed together in one place."
Photo: Sam Zide
Cody Carlson, said of his undercover experience at New York's largest dairy farm: "It's incredibly overwhelming. Your brain can't process seeing this many animals crammed together in one place."
At Rose Acre Farms in Iowa, the nation's second-largest egg producer, with nearly 5 million chickens.
Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States
At Rose Acre Farms in Iowa, the nation's second-largest egg producer, with nearly 5 million chickens.



Watch the undercover animal cruelty videos that spurred Big Ag's censorship crusade.

While Big Ag has attacked, activists have gathered allies.

After Tennessee's law passed the legislature, country singer Carrie Underwood tweeted: "Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the ag gag bill. If Gov. [Bill] Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who's with me?" (Haslam vetoed the bill last week.)

In New Mexico, Pirtle tried to sell his measure under the mantra of property rights. But it's hard to convince consumers that they're best served by less information. His proposal sunk.

The bills have faced resistance on multiple fronts. The American Civil Liberties Union argues that they violate the First Amendment's promise of freedom of speech. Unions like United Farm Workers claim the laws could cloak unsafe working conditions. The Consumer Federation of America worries they might be used to cover up safety problems in the nation's food supply.

Making matters worse for the ag lobby, Underwood has been joined by celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Katherine Heigl, and Emmylou Harris.

Farmers' frustrations are exacerbated by the fact that many of the activists are essentially calling for an end to meat consumption. At the close of every MFA video, for example, the narrator urges viewers to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet. Why would anyone blame agriculture for fighting back?

"These groups want to put an end to meat consumption in this country," says Emily Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance. "The goal of the videos is to repulse the meat-eating public."

Adds Lou Nave of Tennessee's Farm Animal Care Coalition: "The animal-rights organizations don't think we should use animals in any way."

As Pirtle sees it, America is no longer on speaking terms with its chief source of nourishment.

"I think 100 years ago, the majority of people were one or two generations off the farm," he says. "They would understand the great sacrifice animals make for us to survive. Very few people understand what it takes to get food from the farm to the table. We understand the sacrifice they make to sustain life."

Take those tight gestation crates used for sows. They're designed not to make pigs crazy, but to keep mothers from accidentally suffocating their children, says Tony Bolen, a Wisconsin veterinarian. "The mothers lay on a lot of piglets if they don't have them," he explains.

Moreover, there's little science to suggest that cows seek room to roam. "Cows aren't that social, where they want to go and explore," says Bolen. "The average cow will lay down eight-plus hours a day. They just eat and lay down."

What the public doesn't understand, he says, is that only stupid farmers abuse their livestock. Unhappy or unhealthy animals produce less milk, lay fewer eggs, and have fewer babies.

"Most of the farmers, they're treating them right," adds Bolen. "And the animals are pretty much happy, or the farmers aren't making money."

The problem for agriculture: Those "most" seem to rarely show up on film.

In 2011, "Jane" went undercover at a Butterball turkey farm in Shannon, North Carolina. By this point, catching abuse on film was almost routine.

Her hidden camera showed workers stomping birds and bashing their heads with pipes. "We don't need to torture our food before we eat it," she says.

MFA offered the tape to police. The cops responded by raiding the place with arrest warrants.

They would end up with five convictions. The case also showed why activists are leery of handing over footage before their investigations are complete.

Among the convicted was Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, director of North Carolina's Animal Health Programs, who had seen the tape after police went to the state seeking advice about how to proceed. Mason pleaded guilty to leaking word of the impending raid to Butterball a week before it took place.

"Pete" encountered the same sort of governmental duplicity while undercover at a Vermont veal slaughterhouse. Workers kicked and prodded downed calves with electric probes, pouring water on them to heighten their pain.

Also featured on the tape: a USDA inspector warning Pete not to tell him about the most egregious violations, since it would force him to shutter the plant.

Both cases reflect the reluctance of some authorities to fight animal abuse. Meanwhile, Big Ag still hopes to criminalize the few people willing to expose it.

In February, it bagged its first catch.

Twenty-five-year-old Amy Meyer was standing on a public road in Draper City, Utah, watching the cows at the Dale Smith & Sons Meat Packing Company.

As she would later tell independent journalist Will Potter, she noticed "a live cow who appeared to be sick or injured being carried away from the building in a tractor as though she were nothing more than rubble."

Meyer took out her cell phone and started recording. A Smith manager called the police, claiming Meyer had trespassed. But a Draper City officer allowed her to leave, believing she had remained on public land.

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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: and

Marion X Bertaud
Marion X Bertaud

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!