Felony Conviction for Factory Farm Animal Abuse

Seth Victor

This week Brian Douglas was convicted of felony animal cruelty in Hoke County, North Carolina, and was sentenced to 30 days jail, and nearly four years probation. Mercy for Animals has hailed this conviction as “the first felony cruelty to animals conviction related to birds used for food production in US history.” Other related defendants’ cases are pending. Since the investigation into the abuse commenced last December, Butterball has maintained that as an organization it does not condone animal cruelty. Although my search for “animal rights” or “felony” did not turn up any results on Butterball’s website, the self-described largest turkey supplier in the United States does have a slide show demonstrating the love and affection each and every bird receives. I particularly enjoy the image of a mother and son handling a poult with the text, “Our turkeys need the proper care and attention from the start. This concept of well-being is essential in order for the birds to grow and thrive.” It’s true. I’m sure the turkeys do need that care. Whether they actually get it is the question. Butterball also states that “Regular veterinary exams monitor for diseases and help to ensure the health of flocks.” Again, true, but would these be the same veterinarians that tip-off Butterball prior to a police raid? Some people are skeptical. Continue reading

Swine Flu: Born in North Carolina

So it turns out that the H1N1 or (let’s call it what it is:) SWINE Flu is a Tarheel.  This outstanding post in Daily Kos tells the story about how the genes of this most recent virus are traceable to a 1998 outbreak at a Sampson County, North Carolina industrial hog facility.  The whole piece is worth reading but here’s a little taste:

Crowding thousands of pigs into cramped, filthy quarters creates ideal conditions for the fast spread of potentially dangerous viruses. The Humane Society of the United States points out that the unnatural density of such operations enables the large viral loads considered necessary for the emergence of rare flu mutations that can then spread rapidly among animals. The crowded conditions also stress the animals’ immune systems, while the enormous quantities of decaying fecal waste predisposes them to respiratory infections and the lack of sunlight allows viruses to thrive. In addition, the industry’s heavy reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines immunologically pressures the virus to mutate. And the flies and other pests attracted to such operations may be able to pick up viruses and carry them for miles.

So let’s stop all this nonsense about how pandemics like these are inevitable and that preparedness is the key.  Preparedness is certainly essential but the best way to avert deadly flu is to stop creating ideal conditions for its incubation.

–David Cassuto

Citizen Suits and Cruelty Laws

One would not expect to find a progressive animal cruelty law in a state that leads the (un)civilized world in the factory farming of hogs.  Yet, North Carolina’s animal protection statute contains a citizen suit provision — which means that private citizens can bring suit against violators of the law.  This private right of action (a rarity in the world of animal law) has yielded some noteworthy successes.

Private rights of action do not solve the problem of cruelty nor address the inequalities underlying the human/nonhuman dynamic.  But this is true throughout environmental law.  Most of the major environmental statutes contain citizen suit provisions even as the laws fail to resolve or even address many of the most urgent issues regarding our relationship with our surroundings.  Ultimately, though, there is no question (in my mind, anyway) that it is better to have laws than to not and that it is better to enforce those laws than to not.  Citizen suits help enforce laws and thus, despite the imperfections of the current legal regime, it would be nice if we had more of them.

David Cassuto