BREAKING: Facebook removes hunting photos of Texas teen that raised ire

Featured Image -- 6409,0,2940032.story


July 2, 2014

DALLAS (Reuters) – Facebook has removed some photographs of a Texas teenager posing with freshly killed animals she hunted during a recent safari in South Africa that had been criticized by users as inappropriate, the company said on Wednesday.

Kendall Jones, 19, a cheerleader at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, set off a social media storm after she posted a series of photos of animals she killed, smiling in one picture as she hugs a lifeless leopard hanging limply from her arms.

Facebook said some photos were deleted from her page because they violated its policies regarding animal images.

“We remove reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse,” the company said. It did not provide specific information about the photos removed.

Comre Safaris, a company in South Africa that organizes licensed hunts, said the number of animals killed by Jones fell within a quota set by the country’s wildlife department.

Jones defended her actions, saying in a Facebook post she took inspiration from former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, a hunter and conservationist.

“How can it be possible that someone can love the earth, and take from the earth in the name of conservation? For some folks, they’ll never understand. For the rest of us … we were born that way. God Bless Teddy,” Jones said.

But criticism was heavy, with one post branding the hunts barbaric garnering 20,000 comments. More than 130,000 people signed an online petition asking Facebook to remove Jones’ photos, saying they promoted animal cruelty.

“You can see the thrill in her expression and eyes from these photos that she enjoyed the KILLING of these animals,” read one post.

Many cash-strapped African governments allow a small number of big game animals to be killed each year, using the money from the sale of hunting licenses for conservation.

The hunts are held under international guidelines meant to ensure they do not adversely affect overall species numbers.

Animal rights campaigners outraged as Texas cheerleader poses in dozens of photos alongside the rare animals she hunts on African safaris

  • Kendall Jones, 19, is posting the photos on Facebook, where some believe the shots should be taken down
  • Jones has posted shots of herself posing with dead elephants, hippos and lions among others that she’s killed across Africa
  • Jones claims her kills come after a ‘fair chase,’ but thousands are demanding that Facebook remove the posts
  • Jones is a cheerleader at Texas Tech and is gunning for a reality show about her African adventures

By Joshua Gardner

Global animal lovers are up in arms over a teenage Texas girl’s love of killing big African game, so much so that they’re even demanding she be banned from posting pictures of herself smiling alongside her trophies online.

Nineteen-year-old Kendall Jones claims photos of dead hippos, elephants, lions and other beasts on Facebook are a testament to her hunting skills and dedication to game preservation.

But critics are appalled by the teen’s beaming social media and are calling Kendall sick and depraved for killing the rare animals and boasting about it online.

Scroll down for video

Conserving by killing? 19-year-old Texas cheerleader Kendall Jones really likes to kill rare animals in Africa. While she pays for her legal hunts, her critics says she's not the conservationist she claims to be

Conserving by killing? 19-year-old Texas cheerleader Kendall Jones really likes to kill rare animals in Africa. While she pays for her legal hunts, her critics says she’s not the conservationist she claims to be


Loves to hunt: Jones faces criticism over her claims that she's a conservationist. The Texas Tech cheerleader's smiling poses alongside dead rare African animals have won her particular ire

Loves to hunt: Jones faces criticism over her claims that she’s a conservationist. The Texas Tech cheerleader’s smiling poses alongside dead rare African animals have won her particular ire


An online petition to force Kendall to remove her page because it promotes animal cruelty had gained over 40,000 signatures in just a week.

‘For the sake of all animals,’ reads the petition as it implored animal lovers to sign, ‘especially the animals in the African region… where hunters are going for fun just to kill an animal!’

Jones, whose Facebook indicates she ‘is looking to host a TV show in January 2015,’ maintains she is doing what’s best for the preserves, where there isn’t always space for even threatened species like elephants or lions.

‘Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these,’ Jones writes. ‘Funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property.’

Jones’s photos show her posing with bagged zebras, hugging a dead leopard, and smiling beside elephants she’s killed.

One particular photo, in which she’s posing alongside a an extremely endangered rhinoceros, has her critics especially steaming, but the Texas Tech cheerleader says it was alive and well.

‘The vet drew blood, took DNA samples, took body and head measurements, treated a leg injury and administered antibiotics. I felt very lucky to be part of such a great program and procedure that helps the White Rhino population through conservation,’ she wrote.

Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)

Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)

Read more:

and if you haven’t read enough about her yet, here’s a link to all 226 articles that come out today:

Anti-hunting activists outraged by Teenage Mutant Psycho Huntress


Teenage Mutant Psycho Huntress, Kendall Jones, is all over the news today. Here’s a sample of the dozens of articles featuring the young killer:


Cheerleader Turned Extreme Hunting Enthusiast Taking Heat For Big Game

MyFox Los Angeles  – ‎14 hours ago‎
Nineteen-year-old Kendall Jones claims photos of dead hippos, elephants, lions and other beasts on Facebook are a testament to her hunting skills and dedication to game preservation. But critics are appalled by the teen’s beaming social media and are …

Protests Greet Cheerleader’s Hunting Photos  – ‎4 hours ago‎
Top Stories. Protests Greet Cheerleader’s Hunting Photos · Food Allergy Treatments for Children Show Promise · Tim Howard: U.S.

Anti-hunting activists outraged by Texas Tech cheerleader

KVVU Las Vegas  – ‎7 hours ago‎
“Here is the S African Vet administering treatment to the White Rhino I darted during the Green Hunt. The vet drew blood, took DNA samples, took body and head measurements, treated a leg injury and administered antibiotics.
New York Daily News

SEE IT: Texas Tech cheerleader, 19, loves shooting big game in Africa — and

New York Daily News  – ‎Jul 1, 2014‎
Pretty in pink. Deadly in camo. Animal rights activists aren’t pleased with a Texas Tech University cheerleader’s hunting trips that have left trails of blood throughout Africa. The pictures of her beaming beside dead animal carcasses have caused an

Sunday Hunting Law Goes Into Effect

WHAG  – ‎17 hours ago‎
“I think the Sunday hunting bill is a good thing for hunters in Frederick County because it lets the average person that works Monday through Friday, it gives them an extra day to hunt, and extra day to harvest deer for their family and put food on the

“The Deadly Link” Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

The Deadly Link Trailer 6.11.2014

A new trailer for “The Deadly Link” documentary film on the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence/child abuse. Please support our project by donating at or on…
Added on 6/12/14

“It Was Raining Pigeons”: Millions Die in Taiwan Sea Races

More than a million homing pigeons die every year during Taiwan’s seasonal pigeon races, grueling sets of seven races over open ocean from ever-increasing distances. Young birds—not even a year old—are shipped out to sea, released in the middle of the ocean and forced to fly back home even in the midst of typhoon-strength winds. Most often, less than 1 percent of these highly intelligent birds complete each seven-race series; many drown from exhaustion, perish in the storms, or are killed afterward for being too slow.


PETA investigators went undercover at the largest pigeon-racing club in southern Taiwan from June to October 2013. They infiltrated this secretive industry, obtaining access to racing lofts, to “shipping night” (when the birds are registered and put in cargo crates), and even to a ship from which the pigeons were released. Investigators recorded officials and participants as they admitted to the millions of dollars in illegal bets and the massive losses of birds in this ruthless “sport.”

Click here to see more pigeon-racing images. 

Top racers and high-ranking club officials admitted to deadly conditions for the birds, who fly with untreated injuries, without enough rest between races, and through heavy rainstorms. PETA investigators captured video of a race in which tens of thousands of birds disappeared in a matter of hours and were presumed to have drowned. Even birds who survive these extreme conditions may be killed or discarded by their owners if they do not make the qualifying time for the next race in the series. Pigeons are smart, gentle, and loyal birds. They bond for life and can live more than 20 years. Yet almost all of the birds who begin their lives as racing pigeons in Taiwan perish in their first year of life.

“It was raining pigeons—literally. I’ve never seen such a scene. Every one of them crashed onto the boat. … Some crashed into the ocean. … About one hour after the pigeon rain, you could see the whole surface of the ocean filled with dead pigeons.”
—Taiwanese fishing boat captain

Money—not just entry fees, but vast illegal wagers—fuels the multibillion-dollar pigeon-racing industry in Taiwan. Wealthy racers pay upwards of $100,000 for imported breeder birds, and top flyers admitted to making millions on a single race. “Prizes” such as refrigerators are listed on gambling sheets as a cover for the cash bets that are the main draw for these events. Racers boasted that government law enforcement “can’t catch us.” The chance to win staggering sums leads to extortion, drugging of birds, the kidnapping of birds for ransom, and the use of rigorous anti-cheating systems that involve RFID tags, multiple stamps on birds’ wings for identity, covering their leg ring numbers, and meticulously comparing photographs of the birds’ feathers.

An international web of commerce supports Taiwanese pigeon racing: Breeder birds are bought and sold for tens of thousands of dollars from U.S. and international dealers, then kept as “prisoners,” constantly reproducing while their offspring are serially exterminated in race after race. A prominent U.S. racer and breeder who is currently facing felony charges as a result of a previous PETA undercover investigation is involved in selling birds to Taiwan. Bieche Lofts, another top U.S. breeder, recently sold a prize-winning bird to a Taiwanese racer for an undisclosed price. An Idaho company called Dynamite is even producing a specialized pigeon feed for the Taiwanese pigeon-racing market. Millions of dollars fly in this business, but for the pigeons it’s always a losing bet.

You can add your voice to protest the cruel use of pigeons for gambling by asking Wang Cho-chiun, director-general of the National Police Agency, to investigate the cruelty and the billions of dollars in illegal bets and un-taxed winnings associated with pigeon racing in Taiwan.

Sign sample letter here:


Makah whalers commemorate 15th anniversary of last legal whale kill

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

Also see:  Makah group plans to mark whale hunt anniversary Saturday in Neah Bay

NEAH BAY –– Fifteen years after returning from their tribe’s last legal whale kill, some members of the crew of Makah whale hunters who led that hunt set out again into the bay aboard the Hummingbird whaling canoe Saturday.

“It gives me chills. It just gives me chills,” said Charlotte Williams King.

Descended from a long line of whalers, King thought of her ancestors as she watched the canoes paddle in Neah Bay.

Her great-grandfather, John “Hiska” McCarty, dove underwater to tie closed the mouths of harpooned whales.

“I didn’t really realize it, but 15 years is a long time,” she said.

Saturday’s paddle, which included a chase canoe, was organized by the Makah Whaling Commission.

It commemorated the anniversary of the tribe’s successful whale hunt on May 17, 1999. It was the first time in 50 years that the Makah had harpooned a whale, and it happened aboard Hummingbird.

Members of the 1999 hunt crew led by Capt. Wayne Johnson were Theron Parker, Mike Steves, Darrell Markishtum, Glenn Johnson, Keith Johnson, Arnie Hunter, Franklin Wilson, Bruce Gonzelas, Dan Greene, Gordon Parker, Andy Noel, Donald H. Swan and Greg Arnold.

Most were aboard Hummingbird on Saturday.

Keith Johnson, president of the whaling commission, recalled the controversy that surrounded the 1999 kill of a gray whale, nicknamed “May,” whose skeleton now hangs in the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay.

“Last time we had a whaling crew in that [canoe], those terrorists, those eco-terrorists, that were out there in their Zodiacs waking our boat and throwing smoke canisters at us,” Keith Johnson remembered.

The last whale killed by Makah tribal members was in 2007, when a group of five illegally shot dead a gray whale.

Members of the 2007 crew were Wayne Johnson, Parker, Noel, Gonzales and William Secor Sr.

Wayne Johnson served five months in federal prison and Noel 90 days for their roles in the kill.

Hummingbird was retired in 2006 after it capsized, killing Joseph Andrew “Jerry” Jack, a hereditary chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht tribe of Vancouver Island, during an InterTribal Canoe Journey.

Some had called for Hummingbird to be burned, Keith Johnson said, saying it had been cursed.

“You don’t burn a whaling canoe,” he said Saturday. “You bless it.”

The Makah voluntarily stopped hunting gray whales in the 1920s when populations diminished. Gray whales were listed as endangered species in 1970.

When the species was taken off the list in 1994, the Makah worked to resume subsistence hunting.

In the 15 years since the legal kill, the tribe’s right to hunt whales, guaranteed in the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, has been embroiled in court reviews over science.

After being allowed to hunt in 1998 and 1999,which ended in the killing of one whale, whale hunts were stopped shortly thereafter by a federal court order saying the Makah needed an environmental impact statement to obtain a waiver from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The International Whaling Commission in 2007 granted the tribe the right to kill as many as 20 whales over five years — with no more than five in a single year — but it still must get a federal waiver to conduct a hunt.

“We have judges that are animal rights activists that will do anything to put a road block in front of our treaty right to hunt whales,” Keith Johnson said.

“Just leave us alone.”

Conservationists say they are pleased that it’s been 15 years since the last legal hunt.

“We feel differently about the 15th anniversary,” said Margaret Owen, who formed Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales with her husband, Chuck, to speak against the tribe’s whale hunts.

“There’s 60 whales that could have been killed in that time,” Owens said.

A draft environmental impact statement underway in 2008 was stopped by new scientific information that found the group of gray whales that frequents the Washington coast has distinctive genetic markers that differentiate them from the 20,000 gray whales that migrate along the West Coast.

“Those resident whales would have been gone,” Chuck Owens said.

Donna Darm, associate deputy administrator for NOAA’s west region, said Thursday a new statement incorporating that information should be ready for public review by the fall.

Darm and Keith Johnson noted that the tribe’s hunt plan calls for kills of transient whales only.

The 1999 hunt was uplifting for many members of the tribe, according to Makah General Manager Meredith Parker.

“There’s a lot of pride that has stuck with us from that 1999 hunt,” Parker said, “because we did it the right way.”

But the rogue 2007 hunt created divisions, Keith Johnson said, pointing out there was no event to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1999 hunt.

“Do you see the whole tribe here?” he asked as he pointed to the three dozen people on the beach before Saturday’s commemorative paddle.

Saturday’s paddle began with a prayer for more unity from Gordon Lyons and a song for good luck from Darrell Markishtum.

Keith Johnson expressed hope that divisions within the tribe could be closed.

“It’s our traditional food, and people still want it,” Johnson said. “And if for no other reason, a lot of people here will support us for the treaty right.”

Johnson also pointed to the tribe’s cohesion in 1999.

“When we all get attacked, we all stick together. Because we’re one community.”



I’d Love to Change the World

I’ve been told that I’m not helping anything by being vegan; that I wasn’t going to be able to stop all the horrible things going on by taking a stand against animal consumption.

10151358_495324630593354_7512005859880238928_nThat’s a depressing thought, especially if you’re aware of the current holocaust happening all around us. Humans are slaughtering 6 million animals per hour. 20,000 more will die in the time it takes you to read these sentences! That’s a holocaust of farmed animals every 60 minutes. And that’s not counting fish, lobsters, shrimp, oysters, clams, krill or other sea life. But I’m not fooling myself, I know it would take a concerted, allied effort to stop these atrocities.

Even if I never saw positive results from promoting veganism in my short lifetime, there are other reasons for not eating animals. For me, veganism is about choosing not to add to the suffering our fellow Earthlings endure every day for the human appetite; it’s a form of dissent against the extreme cruelty millions of animals undergo so humans can have their steak and eat it too.

Veganism is my protest against the insanity of factory farming; against the existence of battery cages, cattle feedlots, industrialized dairies, veal crates, hog farming, commercial fishing, whaling, sealing, fur trapping, bow hunting, predator control, contest hunts, culling, derby killing and every other form of exploitation our species inflicts on the non-humans citizens of the world.

I might not be able to change the world, but at least I don’t have to be complicit in institutionalized animal cruelty. Non-human animals might hold little value to most people, but the laissez-faire acceptance of brutality and suffering will eventually come back on Homo sapiens and help facilitate the demise of the species.

In the immortal words of Woodstock headliners, Ten Years After:

“I’d love to change the world

But I don’t know what to do

So I’ll leave it up to you”


Oregon Officials Execute Fifteen Sea Lions at the Bonneville Dam

May 15, 2014

Dozens More Could be Killed in 2014

[Just a few days ago, the sport fishing season was extended for an entire month.]

Commentary By Sandy McElhaney, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The once “mighty” Columbia River is now a toxic chemical soupThe once “mighty” Columbia River is now a toxic chemical soup
Photo: Sea Shepherd / Sandy McElhaney
April 2014 was a record-setting month at the Bonneville Dam. On April 30th, 17,972 salmon passed through the Dam’s fish ladders. This was the third-highest single-day fish count at the Dam since 2002. With current projections of a salmon run size of 185,000, state officials are now adding days to the sport fishery season. There is, however, a catch. If you want to sport fish for salmon on the Columbia River, you must be human. If you are a California sea lion caught fishing near the Bonneville Dam, you will be killed.

April 2014 also has the dishonorable distinction of being the deadliest month on record for California sea lions along the Columbia River. On three consecutive Tuesdays, state workers mercilessly killed twelve sea lions because they had the audacity to eat salmon near the Bonneville Dam. The killing spree began on Tuesday, April 15. On that date, six sea lions were executed. One week later, on April 22, state workers lethally injected three more sea lions. On April 29, three more lives were extinguished. Sadly, the month of May began just as ominously as April ended, with another three sea lions killed on the first day of the month, bringing the death toll for the year up to 15 — so far. Authorization from the federal government to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, allows these states to put to death as many as 92 sea lions annually through 2016, simply for eating salmon near the Bonneville Dam.

The kill notices are posted on the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) website. The first notice of 2014 read simply, “Six California sea lions, on the list for removal, were trapped and euthanized at Bonneville Dam today.” That was it. Just 17 dispassionate words were used to sum up the tragic and senseless end to the lives of six individuals who were once a vital part of the ecosystem of the Columbia River. A mandated report from the state of Oregon to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS is the federal entity that authorized the killings in 2012) further stated that “various biological samples were collected for examination and the remaining materials were disposed of in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.” If the sea lion executioners are still following the same practices used when they killed their first victim (branded by Oregon as C265) in 2009, then the skeletons of these poor animals will be articulated and used for research and their flesh sent off to Darling International Rendering Plant in Tacoma, Washington, where they could eventually become fertilizer.

Five of the sea lions killed on April 15 were among those “championed” by Sea Shepherd supporters in 2013 so they could be remembered by name as unique individuals, instead of being known only by the hideous brands on their backs. Their names and their champions are as follows:

Number Champion Name
C027 Frances Holtman Oceanus
C028 Graziella Garri Proteus
C035 Stephan Oelgardt Thery
U254 Brian Lochlaer Barack Obama
U262 Elke Simmons Ahimsa

Photo: Sea Shepherd / Be Bosworth-Cooper
Also killed was U84, who died nameless, but whose image was forever captured on film by Dam Guardian Be Bosworth-Cooper at the Port of Astoria. Several of the now slain animals were branded at the Port in 2013. This charming waterfront town was made famous by the 1985 movie, “The Goonies,” but today it is best known for its ongoing cruelty to sea lions. Tourists and other visitors to the Port are often alarmed to see workers from ODFW “haze” resting sea lions with nowhere to go off of the “goondocks”. Periodically, sea lions are trapped in cages and forcibly branded with hot irons. Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians documented this barbaric practice on multiple occasions in 2012 and 2013. Our footage shows state employee Matthew Tennis standing on, kicking and setting sea lions on fire. These findings were shared with NMFS and Sea Shepherd was informed in writing by the agency that Tennis would henceforth be supervised when capturing and “marking” (branding) sea lions.

An update posted to the ODFW website dated Tuesday April 22 reported, “Seven California sea lions were trapped. Three were on the list for removal and were euthanized. Four were branded and released.” The three sea lions killed were those branded with the numbers C020 (“Dewey,” championed by Allison Cabellon), C029 (“Rocky,” championed by Benjamin Bell), and C930 (“Cesare,” championed by Selena Rhodes Scofield). Three more sea lions were reported to have been euthanized on Tuesday, April 29: C033, U267 and U312. On May 1, the state killed sea lions C031, U264 and B409.

Conveniently, the six sea lions killed on April 29 and May 1 were added to the official NOAA-authorized “hit list” on April 28, 2014, along with five others who are now literally marked for death. Sea lion U312 was killed because he was “observed at the dam on 7 days in 2014 with 2 documented salmonids consumed.” News of his death comes as an especially harsh emotional blow to Sea Shepherd’s Dam Guardians, who witnessed and documented his cruel branding by Oregon state workers in Astoria on March 24, 2013.

The ODFW website talks about California sea lion “management” and “restoring the balance between predators and salmon”. The most recent report from the Army Corps of Engineers claims that California sea lions have consumed 222 salmon at the Bonneville Dam since January; meanwhile, The Seattle Times reported that recreational anglers had landed and kept 9,358 Chinook from March 1-April 14. The state’s concept of “management” is, at best, draconian; at worst it is a display of total ignorance of the real problems in the Columbia River, and the efforts by real conservationists who care deeply about preserving the river, the salmon and the sea lions.

With our history of defending, conserving and protecting marine wildlife and habitats spanning 37 years, Sea Shepherd knows that the real predators are not the sea lions. The real predators are the people who have desecrated one of our nation’s great and beautiful rivers by flushing it with 92 contaminants which have been found in Columbia River fish, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, arsenic, dieldrin, mercury, and DDE – a breakdown product of DDT. The Oregon Environmental Council has classified the Columbia River as being on “Red Alert,” meaning it has serious water quality problems, including toxins that are dangerous to both human and aquatic health. A 2012 study by the Columbia Riverkeepers found PCB concentrations in fish to be 27,000% above levels considered by the EPA to be safe for unrestricted human consumption. So while ODFW is wasting your taxpayer dollars to brand, haze and kill sea lions, the salmon are still swimming in a cesspool of cancer-causing poisons.

As a cancer survivor, I would encourage anyone I care about to avoid consuming toxic fish from the Columbia, and as a Sea Shepherd Dam Guardian I encourage everyone to call upon the governors of Oregon and Washington to immediately redirect their efforts away from killing sea lions and toward restoring the health of the water – before it’s too late.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
State Capitol Building
900 Court Street Salem, OR  97301
phone: (503) 378-4582 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (503) 378-4582 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting
fax:  (503) 378-6827
Internet: Request Assistance
Facebook: John Kitzhaber
twitter: @govkitz

Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA  98504-0002
phone: (360) 902-4111 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (360) 902-4111 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting
fax:  360-753-4110
Internet: Contact Gov. Inslee
Facebook: Governer Inslee
twitter: @govInslee

Our friends at the Humane Society of the United States, who have long championed the Columbia River sea lions in court, have letters for you to send to the governors at this link: Humane Society – Six Sea Lions Killed at Bonneville Dam

Our friends at the Sea Lion Defense Brigade are leading the ground campaign along the Columbia this season. To join them on the ground, please contact: The Sea Lion Defense Brigade is asking concerned citizens to contact NOAA and to urge the agency to cancel the states’ authorization to kill sea lions. Up to 77 more sea lions could be killed in 2014. Please contact NOAA using the contact information below and ask them to grant clemency to these marine mammals who simply eat salmon to survive:

Donna Wieting
Director, Office of Protected Resources
Phone 301 713-2332 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 301 713-2332 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Fax 301 427-2520
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring MD 20910

Why do American farmers need some of the strongest anti-whistleblower laws in the land?

Hogs are raised on the farm.
Should taking this picture without permission be illegal?

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Over several weeks in 2012, an animal rights activist secretly filmed workers at an Idaho dairy farm kicking and punching cows in the head, jumping up and down on their backs, sexually abusing one, and dragging another behind a tractor by its neck. The Mercy for Animals-made video—one of roughly 80 that activists say they’ve recorded over the past decade—prompted the owners of Bettencourt Dairies to fire five workers and install cameras in their barns to prevent future abuses. A police investigation, meanwhile, ended with three of the fired employees charged with animal cruelty. It was a clear victory for those groups that have made it their mission to expose animal cruelty and criminal wrongdoing on modern American farms.

It will also be their last, if the agriculture industry and its allies in state government have their way.

Earlier this year, Idaho became at least the seventh state to pass a law aimed specifically at thwarting such undercover investigations, and roughly a dozen similar bills are currently winding their way through statehouses around the country. While the specifics vary, so-called ag-gag laws generally make it illegal to covertly record animal abuse on farms, or to lie about any ties to animal rights groups or news organizations when applying for a farm job. Idaho’s law is the strictest of those currently on the books. It threatens muckrakers with up to a year in jail and fines up to $5,000—a sentence, it should be noted, that’s the same as what someone convicted of animal abuse faces.

The laws specifically target animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and similar organizations that have increasingly turned to clandestine video in their battle with Big Ag. But the way many of the laws are tailored, they also could ensnare journalists, whistleblowers, and even unions in their legal net, in the process raising serious concerns about the legal impact on everything from free speech to food safety. A wide-ranging coalition of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Food Safety, has joined animal rights groups in challenging the Idaho law, along with a similar one in Utah, in federal court. The lawsuits also have the backing of the Government Accountability Project, the AFL-CIO, and a host of media organizations, including NPR.

“They can dress these laws up however they want, but ultimately the rationale here is pretty clearly self-interest on the part of the industry,” says Michael McFadden, the general counsel at Farm Forward, an advocacy group that’s leading the charge against such laws. The industry and their statehouse allies don’t necessarily disagree. State Sen. Jim Patrick, a lead sponsor of the Idaho legislation and a farmer himself, explained the rationale behind his bill: “It’s not designed to cover up animal cruelty, but we have to defend ourselves.”

The way Patrick and his like-minded colleagues see things, farmers in their state are under attack by activists who will stop at nothing to paint what happens on factory farms in the worst possible light. “Terrorism has been used by enemies for centuries to destroy the ability to produce food and the confidence in food safety,” the Idaho Republican told his fellow lawmakers while advocating for his bill several months ago. He struck a similar note during our conversation, comparing groups like Mercy for Animals, which has made a name for itself legally capturing wrongdoing on camera, with more extreme groups like the Earth Liberation Front, an eco-terrorist organization known for setting fire to ski resorts and lumber mills.

Farmers and their allies are quick to brush off the unsanctioned animal rights investigations as craven attempts to manipulate the public and undermine the meat and dairy industry as a whole. “Their goal wasn’t to protect the animals,” Patrick said of the Mercy for Animals investigation at Bettencourt. “Their goal was to put the farmer, or in this case the dairyman, out of business.” That, the activists admit, is largely true. After investigations uncover inhumane or illegal practices on big farms, the groups have a history of applying public pressure to any corporation it can tie to that particular farm. In the case of the Idaho dairy, Mercy for Animals publicized an indirect link to Burger King—complete with a still-active webpage,—and successfully pressed the fast-food giant to stop topping its burgers with cheese made from the dairy’s milk. While that didn’t put Bettencourt, one of the nation’s largest dairies, out of business, it certainly hurt its bottom line.

The industry concedes that abuses do happen on farms—how could it not when there is video evidence one Google search away?—but largely dismisses them as the work of bad actors that are the exception to the industry rule. The industry says reporters and the public are welcome behind closed barn doors—just as long as farmers are there to give context and explain the unsightly details. “We have no intent to stop journalists, but we do want them to ask permission first,” Patrick said, noting that he and his colleagues intentionally left their law as broad as they could.

There are plenty of problems with that logic as far as the public good is concerned. For starters, Upton Sinclair didn’t rely on official tours of Chicago’s slaughterhouses before sitting down to write The Jungle, the 1906 novel that was based on his undercover trips into meatpacking facilities and a work that is widely credited with driving widespread regulatory reform. Likewise for the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of the New York Times’ Michael Moss, who used confidential company records in 2009 to raise questions about the effectiveness of injecting ammonia into beef to remove E. coli.

The AFL-CIO warns that the effort could have a chilling effect on unions by making it more difficult for undercover organizers to land positions at companies where they are unwelcome, a practice known as “salting.” Ditto for whistleblowers, who in theory could be charged under the law if they were to record evidence to back up their allegations, according to the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection and advocacy organization. State lawmakers behind the efforts often voice fears that activists could easily stage abuse where there is none, leaving farmers convicted in the court of public opinion without a chance to defend themselves—although Patrick couldn’t cite any examples of that ever happening.

There’s also the arguably more pressing matter of the laws’ main target: camera-toting activists on farm factory floors. While the industry might not like what it sees in the videos, it can’t make a convincing case that the footage has no value. In the last three years alone, activists have taped stable workers in Tennessee illegally burning the ankles of horses with chemicals, employees in Wyoming kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air, and farmhands in Iowa burning and snapping off the beaks of young chickens. Those actions went undiscovered, or at least unreported, by the farm owners and government regulators before they were caught on camera by muckraking activists.

What they capture on film can go far beyond animal cruelty, too. The footage is capable of shifting the debate from one about the welfare of livestock to that of humans, a topic much more likely to hit home with consumers. The most damning investigation in the past decade occurred in Southern California, where an undercover Humane Society operative caught workers illegally pushing so-called downer cows, those cattle that are too sick or weak to stand on their own, to slaughter with the help of chains, forklifts, and high-pressure water hoses at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed those cows potential carriers of mad cow disease, salmonella, and E. coli. As a result, the video prompted the recall of 143 million pounds of beef—the largest meat recall in U.S. history—large portions of which were destined for school lunch programs and fast-food restaurants. That investigation would have likely never happened if laws like Idaho’s had been on the books in California.

Both sides are set to get their day in court later this summer when a federal judge hears the suit against the Idaho law. But even if the law is ultimately struck down, the fight will continue. “If it fails, we’ll revise it,” Patrick said. “I know we did the right thing.”