A recent Missouri law meant to protect farmers may be making it harder to report alleged animal abuse, as animal welfare organizations have feared.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Wednesday asked law enforcement in Mercer County to investigate allegations of abuse at Murphy-Brown’s Badger-Wolf pig-breeding operation in northern Missouri. But PETA says it could not reveal who gave PETA the photos that captured the abuse, as the source of the information “is afraid of reprisals.”
Missouri’s law requires recordings of suspected farm animal abuse to be presented to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours.
Proponents of Missouri’s law say it allows authorities to deal with suspected animal cruelty quickly. But PETA and other animal advocates are fighting to overturn such laws, saying that they chill whistleblowing activities.
“This law, with its 24 hour rule, is like a muzzle on good people who want to expose violations of animal cruelty laws,” said Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at PETA. “People who see apparent abuse and neglect like this are often so fearful of losing their jobs, and the ability to work in the same field again, that even in states without ‘ag-gag’ laws they come to PETA instead of to law enforcement.”
In this case, PETA won’t disclose when the information about the alleged abuse was gathered, but says it believes that Missouri’s “ag-gag” law stood in the way of the whistleblower reporting the allegations themselves.
“We’re not surprised by the conditions we found in Missouri, especially when factory farms know that these ‘ag gag’ laws make it harder to report such abuse,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, also a senior vice president at PETA.
Among the allegations Nachminovitch outlined in a letter Wednesday to Mercer County Sheriff Stephen Stockman were that sows and piglets at Murphy-Brown farms in Princeton, Mo., were struck with gate rods and denied medical treatment for infected wounds.
Pigs also allegedly survived multiple attempts to kill them with a captive bolt gun and other attempts to kill them “with carbon dioxide in a crude makeshift gas chamber fashioned out of a Rubbermaid tote.”
A spokesman for North Carolina-based Murphy-Brown, which bills itself as the world’s leading pork producer, responded to the charges in an email Wednesday.
"We are cooperating with Sheriff Stockman,” Dan Butler wrote, “and I think it is best that you contact him for any comments at this point."
Murphy-Brown is the livestock production facility of Smithfield Foods, Inc.
In her letter, PETA’s Nachminovitch asked Sheriff Stockman to investigate the allegations at the Murphy-Brown pig-breeding operation, which she said violate Missouri’s animal protection laws.
She added that the allegations were based on what she called “credible information and photographs which we believe were captured at this operation and which depict cruel confinement and apparent neglect of pigs.”
Among the additional allegations:
- Two sows drowned in liquefied manure in July, when the farm’s wash flushing system became clogged, flooding a barn with waste;
- Workers shot sows six or seven times with a captive bolt gun before killing them;
- Some lame, crated sows were unable to access food and water;
- And that dead piglets were “routinely allowed to rot in farrowing crates alongside surviving littermates…”
Sheriff Stockman said in an interview Wednesday that he intended to investigate the matter himself. He added that he had been in contact with Murphy-Brown officials and they said they would work with the sheriff and do everything in their power to correct any problems that may exist.