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Cloris Leachman

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Don't Cover Up Animal Cruelty

Posted: 04/27/11 11:16 PM ET

I was born and raised in Des Moines, and I've always been proud to be a Midwesterner. There's a clarity, a straightforwardness, a candor and an honesty -- and a type of clear thinking -- that comes from being from the Midwest.

That's why I was so disappointed to hear about a bill currently in Iowa's Legislature that gives the impression that Iowa has something to be ashamed of -- a dirty secret to hide.

House File 589 would make it illegal to photograph farmed animals without first getting permission from the farmer. What are they trying to hide? Do Iowa farms house really famous animals like Miss Piggy and Babe and this law just seeks to protect them from paparazzi?

If only. What they are trying to hide are the routine violations of state and federal anti-cruelty laws that have been documented in Iowa and across the country.

In 2008, my friends at PETA went undercover at a Greene County factory farm that supplied pigs to Hormel. The group found that workers were beating pigs with metal rods, sexually abusing them with canes, jabbing clothespins into their eyes and more.

Because of PETA's investigation, six workers were charged with a total of 22 counts of livestock neglect and abuse. All of them admitted guilt. Pork magazine called this case a "wake-up call" for the industry -- but three years later, the industry is still hitting the snooze button.

Iowa's anti-filming bill has already passed the House and is currently being considered in the Senate.

If HF 589 becomes law, whistleblowers who try to expose cruelty to animals in the meat, dairy or egg industries could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, face criminal prosecution and be ordered to pay heavy fines or even serve jail time. That's a harsher punishment than the actual perpetrators of animal abuse receive, in many cases.

Citizens' right to document cruelty to animals -- wherever it occurs -- is crucial in helping local, state and federal officials enforce anti-cruelty laws. Authorities can't be everywhere at once, and funding for enforcement of anti-cruelty laws is sorely lacking in most places. What we need are more cameras on factory farms, not fewer.

It seems to me that this odd Iowa bill is a reaction to an animal agriculture bill in California a few years ago. That bill didn't seek to circumvent laws by forbidding cameras, it sought to address increasing concerns about how animals are treated in the meat industry and establish more humane practices. And the bill passed with overwhelming support from both conservatives and liberals.

I hope Iowa legislators recognize that with more and more consumers demanding better treatment of animals, they need to work to enforce and strengthen laws, not criminalize the actions of those trying to expose illegal cruelty.

This post first appeared at the
Des Moines Register.