A Utah woman facing jail time for video recording a cow from a public street was relieved to learn her charge had been dropped Tuesday.
But that was only because her case had generated a national media firestorm.
Otherwise, Salt Lake City prosecutor Ben Rasmussen would likely have proceeded in his case against Amy Meyer, the first person prosecuted under the state’s “ag-gag” law, one of several that have popped up throughout the country in the past year at the insistence of farming lobbyists.
It essentially boils down to the farming industry not wanting us to see how they treat the animals we eat, so they’ve bribed lawmakers in several states to draft or pass laws that forbid citizens from video recording or photographing the internal operations of factory farms.
After all, these images may be revolting enough to turn us into a nation of herbivores. And damaging enough to lead to criminal charges against the farm industry.
According to the New York Times:
On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.
Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.
But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.
Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.
Florida was one of the first state to attempt to pass such a law in 2011 when a legislator tried to make it a felony to video record a farm from the side of a road.
When that failed, he tried to pass a watered-down version of the law that would make it a misdemeanor to step on a farm with the intent of video recording, but that would have made trespassing laws redundant.
But since then, Iowa, Utah and Missouri have passed such laws with several other states attempting to pass such laws.
Meyer, an animal rights activist in Utah, was well aware of the law when she began recording from the road.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
In her statement, Meyer describes the scene as upsetting, saying she saw “piles of horns” and “flesh being spewed from a chute on the side of the building.” Meyer also writes of seeing cows struggle to turn around after “they smelled and heard the misery that awaited them inside.” She goes on to write about seeing an apparently sick or injured cow being carried away in a tractor, “as though she were nothing more than rubble.”
While still outside the slaughterhouse, Gollan said, someone from the meat company approached Meyer saying she wasn’t allowed to film the operations.
“He made some reference to having seen someone enter his right of way,” Gollan said.
Meyer responded that she was on public property and was allowed to be there. She reiterated the point in her statement, saying she “never once crossed the barbed wire fence that exists to demarcate private and public property.”
Eventually the police arrived, questioned Meyer and then released her without making any arrests.
Although police determined that no crime had been committed, Rasmussen decided to charge her on February 19, more than a week after the incident, meaning that Meyer was now facing six months in jail.
He then waited more than two months before deciding to dismiss the case on Tuesday, claiming his decision had nothing to do with the extensive media coverage it received on Monday.
But the Salt Lake Tribune knew better:
Prosecutor Benjamin Rasmussen said his office moved to dismiss the case after he received new evidence during a hearing April 18. At the hearing, Rasmussen explained, Meyer, 25, provided video footage showing that she was on public property during at least some of the time she was recording the slaughterhouse. Rasmussen added that other footage left Meyer’s position ambiguous but he nevertheless decided to drop the case.
“I determined that in interest of justice I wouldn’t pursue the matter,” he said.
The dismissal comes a day after the case shot to national attention. Monday morning, a journalist broke the story in a piece about Meyer on the website Green is the New Red. Meyer’s defense attorney, Stewart Gollan, said later in the day that he had received numerous inquires about the case from national and Utah media.
Rasmussen said the media interest did not have bearing on his decision to dismiss the case.