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AG-GAG’S SURVEILLANCE STATE: How the animal agriculture industry uses U.S. spy agencies to monitor and punish critics

The animal agricultural industry's surveillance network uses their influence within the US intelligence agencies to aid their efforts to punish and retaliate against its critics and activists.

GLENN GREENWALD: Animal agriculture industry groups defending factory farms engage in campaigns of surveillance, reputation destruction, and other forms of retaliation against industry critics and animal rights activists, documents obtained through a FOIA request from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal. That the USDA possesses these emails and other documents demonstrates the federal government’s knowledge of, if not participation in, these industry campaigns.

These documents detail ongoing monitoring of the social media of news outlets, including The Intercept, which report critically on factory farms. They reveal private surveillance activities aimed at animal rights groups and their members. They include discussions of how to create a climate of intimidation for activists who work against industry abuses, including by photographing the activists and publishing the photos online. And they describe a coordinated ostracization campaign that specifically targets veterinarians who criticize industry practices, out of concern that veterinarians are uniquely well-positioned to persuasively and powerfully denounce industry abuses.

One of the industry groups central to these activities is the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which represents factory farms and other animal agriculture companies — or, as they playfully put it, they work for corporations “involved in getting food from the farm to our forks!” The group boasts that one of its prime functions is “Monitoring Activism”… Indeed, the Alliance frequently monitors and infiltrates conferences of industry critics and activists, then provides reports to their corporate members on what was discussed… In the emails obtained by the FOIA request, the Alliance and its allies frequently encourage their members to alert the FBI and Department of Homeland Security regarding actions by activists…

One person singled out for retaliation in these discussions was a popular, respected Bay Area veterinarian, Dr. Crystal Heath. As a local CBS affiliate television profile of her explained, Dr. Heath is the kind of veterinarian who we all as children are taught to admire… Dr. Heath has devoted herself to shelter medicine, working for years with the Berkeley Humane Society and other nonprofit animal rescue groups, where she “has spayed and neutered more than 20,000 animals”… But to the Animal Agriculture Alliance and its industry allies, Dr. Heath somehow became a grave danger, an “extremist” whose name needed to be circulated within her profession as someone to be aggressively shunned. And that is exactly what they did.

What prompted this targeted campaign against her was nothing more than her use of her veterinarian expertise to express criticisms of industry abuses and excesses… In May, The Intercept reported on a gruesome mass-extermination technique being used by Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, to kill large numbers of pigs which were deemed unnecessary and in need of “depopulation” due to the pandemic. The technique, called “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD, involves cutting off the air supply in barns and turning up the heat to intense levels so that “most pigs — though not all — die after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death”…

One of the veterinarians indignant about ventilation shutdown extermination programs was Dr. Heath. She was part of a group of hundreds of her veterinarian colleagues… Due to her criticisms of these factory farm practices and her work with DxE in advocating industry reform, industry groups focused on her. In one email from April, a vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, Hannah Thompson-Weeman, revealed that an “alert” had been sent about Dr. Heath to California members, accusing her of engaging in “extreme activism” and encouraging groups to “spread the word to your veterinarian contacts in California” — where Dr. Heath practices — “using private, members only channels”…

Following that “alert,” Dr. Heath began experiencing targeted campaigns against her online and within her profession. Though it cannot be proven that this was the result of the Alliance’s “alert,” what began happening to her for the first time in the wake of that alert tracked the language used against her by these industry groups… What perhaps alerted the Alliance was one veterinarian group that accused her of being “part of an active campaign to cause as much harm as possible to our clients and ourselves,” announcing that they had alerted the Alliance about her. Veterinarian groups on Facebook posted their own warnings about her, and she was banned from some groups…

That the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in possession of the emails and other documents circulated by industry groups, and thus produced them as part of the FOIA request, indicates that, at the very least, government officials are being included in these discussions (the flyer about Dr. Heath and other social media postings regarding her were obtained by The Intercept from Dr. Heath, not by the FOIA request). What is clear is that the animal agricultural industry essentially operates their own private surveillance and “warning” networks, and uses their extensive influence within the halls of government power to aid their efforts to punish and retaliate against its critics and activists. SOURCE…

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