N.C. Farmworker Convicted of Animal Cruelty, but How Many Others Won’t Be?
A North Carolina farmworker who was shown in an undercover video brutally abusing chickens has been convicted of animal cruelty, but for animal activists, it’s a case of bittersweet American justice.
First, the good news: The worker, Danny Miranda, has been sentenced to 45 days in the Richmond County jail and a year’s probation, and he has been barred from working with animals. The conviction comes less than a month after the nonprofit group Mercy for Animals released undercover video footage of horrendous abuse by Miranda and other workers at two factory farms that supply chickens for poultry giant Perdue.
Supplied chickens, that is—a company spokeswoman told the local Richmond County paper that Perdue had severed ties with the farms and that any subcontractor seen on the video “mishandling” (i.e., terrorizing) birds had either been fired or “retrained.”
You probably don’t even need to subject yourself to the video to get an idea of how egregious Miranda’s treatment of the chickens was. I mean, you know it had to be bad to secure a conviction for animal cruelty in rural North Carolina. The state ranks among the country’s top chicken producers; poultry farming there is big business.
Which is where the bad news comes in: Miranda may well be the last sadistic farmworker in North Carolina to be held accountable for his actions for a long time. Why? Because today, it wouldn’t be Miranda who would land in hot water but the undercover investigator who filmed him.
Owing to the very success of investigations such as the one that exposed Miranda, a number of Big Ag states have adopted so-called ag-gag laws, which subject whistle-blowers—not animal abusers—to stiff fines and even jail time. North Carolina’s own ag-gag law went into effect on Jan. 1, just days before Miranda was sentenced. If the video were released today, the folks at Mercy for Animals would be subjected to punishment to the tune of $5,000 in fines for each day they were found to be in violation of the law.
Thankfully, any number of animal welfare and environmental groups, as well as consumer rights organizations, haven’t been content to let these ridiculous laws stand. The Animal Legal Defense Fund persuaded a federal judge to strike down Idaho’s ag-gag law last summer, arguing that it violated the First Amendment. Just last week another federal judge, responding to a case brought by a coalition of groups, signaled that a similar law in Wyoming was also likely unconstitutional.
But animal welfare activists may be in for a long and difficult court fight to see all of these laws struck down. In the meantime, the group at the center of the North Carolina controversy has some simple advice: “Ultimately the best way to protect chickens and other farmed animals from needless cruelty and suffering is to leave meat, eggs, and dairy off your plate,” Mercy for Animals posted on its blog.