I’d known for many years that the undercover investigation that PETA co-founder Alex Pacheco undertook at an animal research lab in Silver Spring, Maryland, was a catalyst for the animal rights movement. I also knew about the undercover investigation that he did in 1983 in Texas, where thousands of horses were dying of starvation, victims of a badly planned horse slaughter operation. What I didn’t know was that, according to the author of a recent book called “The End of Animal Farming,” the horse investigation was “the first undercover investigation of farmed animal abuse.” Pacheco describes it as the time he was pursued by the local authorities and shot at by ranchers, before getting the huge slaughter operation permanently shut down.
Despite Pacheco’s unwavering effort to shine a light on the secretive industry of animal experimentation through the Silver Spring Monkey case, animal abuse in research labs has continued pretty much unchecked because the researchers have been able to convince the government and the public that virtually ANY animal abuse is OK as long as it’s done by someone with a science degree. For example, before Pacheco brought his case to the authorities, he checked the laws to see if animals in labs were covered by anti-cruelty laws. The laws did NOT say that researchers were exempt, so the experimenters should have been convicted of cruelty based on the clear evidence. Instead, the government changed the laws to specifically say experimenters did not have to obey anti-cruelty laws.
Fortunately, undercover investigations were done with more success at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Although dangerous, expensive, and traumatic for the investigator, these investigations became a critically important tool for animal protection groups to reveal the truth about how farmed animals are treated behind closed doors. The nauseating photos and videos showed the public that they had been lied to about how these animals were being treated. Even when the videos revealed abuses that were–and still are–legal, the animals were not treated “humanely” by any stretch of the imagination, and animal rights groups would encourage horrified viewers to go vegan to avoid contributing in any way to this suffering, rather than suggesting that people just switch to some other brand of animal products. Viewers could see and hear for themselves the screaming, the gushing blood, the struggling, and the terror in the animals’ eyes. They could see for themselves confinement that’s hellish almost beyond imagination. They watched animals being beaten by callous or bored or frustrated workers. These videos were so nightmarish that it was hard to get them on network television. Too “graphic.” Also, of course, the advertisers who sold animal products objected to the footage. It became easier to spread this message on the Web.
But what also happened at that time was severe backlash by the animal industries–laboratories and agriculture, in particular. What Pacheco had done to expose abuse of the Silver Spring Monkeys wasn’t illegal, so they decided to try to MAKE it illegal in every possible way. That led to state laws that criminalized things like getting a job at an animal facility under false pretenses (not stating that you’re trying to get evidence of cruelty). Taking videos at an animal facility without permission. Gathering evidence of a pattern of abuse, instead of reporting it immediately and enabling the abuser to claim that the abuse is an isolated incident. Considering any “interference” with an animal facility, including causing its profits to decrease, to be a crime. These animal abusers even tried to make it a crime for a volunteer or employee of an animal protection group to SHOW the undercover videos to the public.
If this principle were applied to child abuse, it would mean that you could be thrown in prison for taking a video of your neighbor beating his children. And if you gave the video to someone else to show to the public, that other person could also be thrown in prison.
Some of the animal industry people came up with the bright idea of equating undercover animal rights investigations with terrorism, and because of their deep pockets and connections in Congress, they succeeded in passing some wildly discriminatory laws, first the Animal Enterprise Protection Act in 1992 and then, in 2006, when people were still reeling from the actual terrorist attack on America on 9/11/2001, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was pushed through with virtually no discussion. Unfortunately, it still exists today. These laws have a chilling effect on the efforts of compassionate people to reveal the cruelty that’s going on behind closed doors in laboratories, factory farms, slaughterhouses, fur farms, and every other business that abuses animals for profit. The people who are terrorizing, torturing, and killing animals are getting away with it, and the people who are trying to document this are being deterred from doing investigations out of fear of long prison terms.
There was yet another mass shooting lately, and there were calls to give the police and FBI new freedom to investigate people they considered to be terrorists, to catch them before they commit a terrorist act. This might seem like a great idea at first, but as one of thousands of people who have shared undercover videos of animal cruelty, and knowing that animal abusers would love to turn animal protection into a crime, I’m not comfortable with giving the government so much power to decide who they think is a terrorist and who isn’t. We already have a huge legal system designed to make the punishment fit the crime, and that’s why murder is a felony punishable by lifetime imprisonment, while vandalism isn’t.
Before founding 600 Million Dogs, Alex Pacheco was arrested over 60 times in the course of his work to help animals. But he is one of a very select group of people willing to sacrifice that much for animals, and no one should have to risk going to prison for helping an abused animal. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act should be repealed.
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