This case revealed three lies that the state uses its power to cover up, rather than shine light on, animal cruelty in our food system: that abuse is acceptable if it’s widespread and normalized; that critics, not abusers, are criminals; and when all else fails, that there’s no conversation worth having at all. The government, in short, is an active collaborator in industrial animal cruelty.
MATT JOHNSON: In the spring of 2020, a truck driver at Iowa Select Farms, one of the largest pig farming companies in the nation, reached out to me with a shocking allegation: Iowa Select was about to secretly roast thousands of healthy animals alive. The practice, which is called “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD, involves shutting down the cooling vents in a crowded factory farm, then pumping in boiling-hot steam to take the temperature even higher.
The animals die of heat stroke, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest in a process that has been described as “being slowly suffocated and roasted to death.” It’s a cheap way to dispose of thousands of animals, which became a priority for the pig farming industry due to the closure of slaughterhouses during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the slaughterhouses closed, the industry had nowhere to take the pigs, and didn’t want to bear the cost of continuing to house and feed them. VSD was the industry’s ghastly answer to that problem. When it was clear that company officials nor law enforcement were interested in stopping this practice, the truck driver, Lucas Walker, called the animal rights organization I work with, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).
Acting on tips from Walker, we planted undercover cameras to document VSD, including hours of agonizing screams by animals desperate to escape the boiling hot steam. We shared our evidence with the media and the authorities, and, after public outcry, the practice was voluntarily discontinued by Iowa Select Farms.
But instead of investigating the company, and determining how such a cruel practice could have been authorized, law enforcement in Iowa arrested me, charged me with serious crimes, and accused me of “animal terrorism.” Now, after nearly two years of litigation, efforts to gag our defense in court, and an enormous waste of government resources, the case was dismissed on Jan. 19 — just one day before I was set to face trial.
While I am now free of all charges, the lies perpetrated against consumers about our food system continue. Indeed, this case revealed three lies that the state uses its power to cover up, rather than shine light on, animal cruelty in our food system: that abuse is acceptable if it’s widespread and normalized; that critics, not abusers, are criminals; and when all else fails, that there’s no conversation worth having at all. The government, in short, is an active collaborator in industrial animal cruelty…
The first lie is that the industry’s actions are OK because they are widespread, they’re “normal”… And this is par for the course in animal agriculture, as most animal cruelty laws in all states exempt most animal cruelty — that which is inflicted upon “farm animals.” This normalization of abuse is part of an unfortunate pattern in the government’s response to animal cruelty in factory farms. Indeed, in many states, this normalization of abuse is literally written into the law…
The second lie is that the critics, not the corporations, are the criminals. There are many people, even within the industry, who resist this normalization of abuse… Many are now afraid, not just of losing their jobs, but of being prosecuted. That’s because of laws, enacted at the behest of Big Ag, that gag and criminalize the critics… Iowa, for example, is one of six states that have passed so-called “ag gag” laws, targeting investigators and employees who seek to expose abuses by animal agriculture corporations… But many people, including Lucas, have continued speaking out despite these efforts to gag critics.
And that’s when the government uses its third technique to cover-up abuses: ending the conversation. After nearly two years of prosecution, including a middle-of-the-night raid to arrest me, dozens of legal filings, and the wasteful spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Iowa suddenly dropped the entire case against me just 15 minutes before a hearing to address media coverage of the trial. That was no coincidence. When the government realized that efforts to normalize abuse and gag critics had failed, and that there might be actual scrutiny of Iowa Select Farms’ practices, it suddenly decided that it didn’t want to be part of this conversation after all. SOURCE…