Supporters of SB648 (some of whom have ties to NC Farm Bureau, Monsanto, Wendell Murphy, Smithfield PAC, family members of the Clinton pork and turkey producers Prestage Farms and other agribusiness companies), as well as the NC Chamber of Commerce, who is driving the bill, have presented this issue as merely a “transparency in employment law.” SB648 is not designed to accomplish transparency in employment, but to prevent transparency of operations in large agribusiness.
If SB648 had been law in 2011, the abuse of turkeys at a Hoke county farm that grew under contract for Butterball would never have been prosecuted. We know from the Butterball case that law enforcement and government officials cannot always be trusted to properly investigate a proposed animal cruelty or food safety problem. Dr. Sarah Mason, director of animal health programs in the NCDA’s Poultry Division at the time of the investigation, contacted Dr. Eric Gonder, a veterinarian for Butterball, to relay that a Hoke county farm was being investigated for animal cruelty. She was later charged and found guilty of obstruction of justice and resisting, delaying or obstructing officers. This type of “cronyism” demonstrates the difficulty that can arise in determining who to trust when turning over evidence of such abuses. It may well take more than 24 hours to determine who can be trusted to conduct a professional investigation.
Agriculture classes that I took in the 1980’s still taught animal husbandry. The physical abuse that took place at the Hoke county farm raising turkeys for Butterball was an egregious act of poor animal husbandry. Ag classes now focus on animal science and livestock production. I contend that this change has brought a focus in agriculture on increasing profits, sometimes to the detriment of the animals involved. A farmer employing traditional, sustainable agricultural practices does not have thousands of poultry or hogs on his farm. He knows his animals and goes into the pasture to check on them. Their welfare is his primary concern. I contend that CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Outfits) have so many animals that the animals become almost an inanimate object and are seen merely as a resource that can be replaced. This sort of attitude can easily lead to animal cruelty.
As an independent farmer, I am required byUSDA to transport my animals to the processing facility in a humane manner. The USDA inspector on site has the authority to turn away from the facility any animal delivered in a manner that constitutes poor animal welfare. For example, I can be turned away from the plant for transporting livestock in an un-ventilated livestock trailer when it is hot or for using an electric shock stick to get my animals to exit the trailer into the facility. Ultimately, the welfare of the animal overrides my rights as the owner of the animal. Should this not be the same with any animal cruelty discovered by an employee, no matter what the circumstances of employment of that individual? Should the company’s rights to ownership of that animal give them the right to abuse the animal without impunity? It doesn’t for the independent, sustainable farmer. Why should the rules be any different for agribusinesses such as Butterball, Smithfield Foods, Prestage, or any other company? It is my contention and that of many consumers that the humane treatment of animals and consumer food safety are more important than “transparency in employment.”
Smithfield Foods, was purchased by China’s largest pork producer, Shuangui International , last week. China has a spotty record on food safety. In recent years, the country has dealt with numerous food scandals, involving toxic baby formula, tainted pork products, rice contaminated with heavy metals and pet deaths in North America from Melamine in the pet food. The Chinese also have a spotty record on human rights. Now, Shuangui International will control the operational procedures of Smithfield Foods. Many American consumers are questioning the long-term ramifications of this to the welfare of the animals and the safety of the food produced by Smithfield Foods.
The passage of SB648 will provide a legal avenue to protect the “rights” of large companies no matter how many animals are treated cruelly nor if there are food safety issues. It will however serve as a serious catalyst within NC and other states for the growth in sales of meat from sustainably and humanely raised livestock. However, with much of the CAFO pork produced in NC currently being exported to China, a decrease in sales in the US market may pale in comparison to the money to be made in meat exports. Will the NC Chamber of Commerce, our NC Legislators, Farm Bureau and Big-Ag ensure the welfare of the livestock raised in NC and the safety of our food supply? Will they bear the responsibility? I doubt it. It appears that their primary concern is to keep the foreign money flowing.
Please contact your legislators today and tell them to vote against SB 648.
Sandra Genell Pridgen
9th generation family farmer
Rainbow Meadow Farms