Stowe Reporter | The hometown newspaper for Stowe,Vermont.

‘Ag-gag’ bill stirs debate: Senator supports effort to punish whistleblowers

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 12:00 pm

A local lawmaker has backed a controversial bill critics say would curb efforts to expose animal abuse on Vermont farms.

State Sen. Richard Westman, R-Cambridge, is one of four sponsors of S. 162. The bill would make it a crime to trespass onto farm property or get a job on a farm under false pretenses. Offenders would pay up to a $1,000 fine if convicted.

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  • Tamara Burke posted at 3:09 pm on Fri, May 10, 2013.

    Tamara Burke Posts: 8

    If I raise chickens, in volume, again I will likely get a couple of pigs to go with them. Why? Because the mortality rate among chicks is notoriously high. Chicks are fragile, even kept under the best conditions. And since chicks cost money, upwards of $3 each, as a farmer I have no incentive to have chicks die. But they do. Pigs will eat dead chickens, no questions asked. And snort at you looking for more nugget snacks. Apparently, from a pig point of view, chicks are darn tasty.

    Makes me a bit queasy, but I’m not a pig.

    The new religion is farm transparency, the idea that you should know where your food comes from, how it is raised, and how it reaches your table. The fact is, most of you? Don't really want to know how your meat comes to hit the table. Most people aren't at all comfortable with the idea that the adorable lamb in the field, pronking straight up and down in glee as the gate opens on a fresh field of dandelion blooms, is going to be shot squarely in the ear, have its throat slit, and be left, twitching, to bleed out. There's nothing attractive about that.

    In fact, photographed from the sidelines it looks downright cruel. Do you really think lambs stand there cheerfully to be shot? They don't. They are dragged bodily from their pens and forced to the ground because shooting them while they are upright would be grossly dangerous. The time between munching hay with their fellows and twitching on the ground is a matter of minutes, but still, there are those minutes when they are being handled in ways they're not accustomed to, and a frightening moment before a bullet ends their confusion.

    Legislation on the table would make it illegal to trespass onto a farm's property to photograph or take away evidence, and it would make it illegal to gain access to the property by false representation. For me there isn't even a question of whether or not this legislation should pass. This kind of activism is the equivalent of a vigilante sneaking into your home to gather evidence without a warrant, or the police arriving at your house in disguise to gain entry to your home to check it out. They have no reason to suspect you, no reason to be there, other than the fact that they feel you might not meet their arbitrary standards of conduct.

    If you've got an issue with farming practices you have the option of buying from other farms, or better yet, getting your hands dirty and raising it yourself. You don't like how animals are handled before slaughter? Fine. Slaughter your own. You don't like how milk cows are handled? You're free to maintain your own cow. Or find a dairy that meets your requirements and buy from them.

    But stay off my property and out of my barns. Unless you've got a warrant, you've got no business being in there.

  • VTAnimaLover posted at 6:13 pm on Tue, May 7, 2013.

    VTAnimaLover Posts: 1

    Agri-Mark director Robert Foster and others who favor ag gag legislation are defending the kind of dairy production that an increasing number of citizens do not support. Undercover investigations take time because they establish patterns of abuse or neglect that cannot be shrugged off as isolated incidents at the hands of the rare bad actor. And to persist in docking cows’ tails demonstrates a disregard for public attitudes as well as scientific and industry expert opinion.

    Decent, law-abiding farmers have nothing to hide, but those who are lax when it comes to animal welfare might want to keep their bad habits behind closed doors. Violations of Vermont’s cruelty statutes are grotesquely under-prosecuted and penalties are seldom imposed. The vast majority of citizens don’t want systemic cruelty perpetuated. In this information age, and with agri-tourism on the rise and the local foods movement growing, concerned citizens and conscientious consumers are insisting that farmed animals are treated humanely.

    Animal advocates aren't the only ones who denounce routine tail docking because it causes pain and deprives cows of their natural ability to swat flies. Eleven years ago a Dairy Herd Management editorial headline declared that "Tail Docking Makes Little Sense." Last year the dairy industry Bible, Hoard's Dairyman, declared, "It's one practice whose only place should be in the annals of history." This spring, a Wisconsin Agri-View piece quoted an animal scientist admitting that tail docking is "one of the Achilles' heels" of the dairy industry. Dr. Susan Eicher's research, for one example, determined that tail amputation causes acute and chronic pain. The conservative AVMA and the Association of Bovine Practitioners have made policy statements opposing the practice.

    If dairy producers in Vermont expect to survive, maybe they should start listening to the informed consumer and their own industry experts instead of digging in their heels. Cruelty is cruelty, whether it’s abuse exposed by an undercover investigator or a routine practice that contradicts the common sense of even a city slicker tourist, to whom it’s pretty obvious that cows need their tails. (

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