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The "Ag-Gag" War: Behind the Scenes of the Death Match Between Big Ag and Undercover Animal-Rights Activists

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farms & Food Safety page.

Cody Carlson had no way of preparing for this moment. He was a Manhattan kid, days removed from working as an analyst for a business-intelligence firm, where he scrutinized corporations and their executives.

Now he was standing in a bleak barn at New York's largest dairy farm.

There was a medieval feel to the place. Cows were wedged head-to-tail in pens carpeted with their own waste. The air was an acrid blend of urine, manure and chemicals. Some animals were left unattended with open sores that leaked puss. Others lay dying in pens, too sick or weak to stand.

"It's incredibly overwhelming," Carlson says. "Your brain can't process seeing this many animals crammed together in one place."

His first job, technically speaking, was to repair the mechanism that pulled manure from the barn.

His real job: covertly filming it all for Mercy for Animals.

As espionage goes, it was easier than infiltrating a Pizza Hut. Experience told the Los Angeles animal-rights group that it could send an undercover operative to a factory-style farm anywhere and it was certain to find abuse.

Carlson had simply been told to find a job in upstate New York. While the work requires punishing labor while surrounded by stench - all for the princely sum of $8 an hour - it isn't like spying on North Korea. Two days later, he was hired by Willet Dairy.

His hidden camera caught employees kicking and shocking animals that wouldn't bend to their will. Supervisor Phil Niles is heard recounting an abuser's greatest hits: how he beat cows with wrenches, smashed their heads with two-by-fours, kicked them when they were too feeble to rise.

"Fucking kicking her, hitting her," he chortles while recalling one incident. "Fucking jumping off the top of the goddamned gate and stomping on her head and shit."

After five weeks of filming, Mercy for Animals took the footage to ABC's World News. Niles was subsequently charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. His penalty for nineteen years of beating cows in every way imaginable: a $555 fine.

Prosecutors cleared Willet Dairy of any wrongdoing. But the company did take an uppercut to the wallet. After the video went national, Willet was dumped by one of its major buyers, Leprino Foods, the world's largest mozzarella producer.

Carlson didn't wait around for the fallout. He soon re-emerged at Country View Family Farms in Fannettsburg, Pennsylvania, where nearly 3,000 pigs live as pork-products-in-waiting for Hatfield Quality Meats. Once again, his camera caught the gruesomeness of the factory food chain.

Workers threw piglets by their ears, ripped out their testicles with bare hands sans anesthesia. Constantly impregnated sows were kept in cages just two feet wide, unable to turn around and allowed to walk just four days a year.  


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