Behind closed doors, millions of animals suffer short tormented existences in factory farms, laboratories, breeding facilities, fur farms, and countless other places. These animals are subjected to unspeakable cruelty and animal rights groups know the best way to help them is to get their stories into the public eye.
Animal rights groups like Mercy For Animals send in undercover investigators to document the cruelty taking place. These admirable investigators dedicate weeks or months to working inside these facilities, witnessing and filming the horrendous conditions the animals suffer so that the public can be made aware of what is happening.
Currently several states, including Minnesota, have “ag-gag” bills up for consideration. If these laws are passed, it would become illegal for these undercover investigators to do their job. Without these investigations, animals would continue to be tortured with little hope of change.
Former investigator Cody Carlson has been gracious enough to answer a few questions for the Examiner about his experience and his thoughts about the current “ag-gag” bills being introduced around the country. Cody currently lives in Brooklyn where he attends Brooklyn Law School and lives with his fiancée and rescued dog.
How did you become involved with animal cruelty investigations?
I was working as a private investigator when I became aware of Mercy For Animal’s lifesaving work. I reached out to help them with background research on a volunteer basis, but they talked me into coming on board as a field investigator.
Most investigators aren’t professional private eyes, however. They’re ordinary folks of all backgrounds who simply aren’t afraid to put in some hard labor in order to expose animal abuse.
What was your life like when you were involved with an investigation?
Outside of work, it was basically non-existent. I usually worked six days a week and my evenings were spend in my hotel, logging my footage, writing reports, and trying to catch up on sleep. On my day off, I played in basketball leagues and participated in book clubs, things that gave me some semblance of a social life without actually having to get to know anyone.
What type of facilities have you worked at?
I’ve worked at a major dairy farm, a large sow farm (where they breed pigs for pork), and several of the biggest egg producers. You can see what I found here: Cruelty at New York's Largest Dairy Farm, Investigation Reveals Cruelty at Pig Factory Farm, and Appalling Cruelties at Nation's Top Egg Producers. Suffice to say, they were each insanely cruel and disgusting operations, and as leaders in their field, I have no reason to doubt that they represent the standard conditions for their respective industries.
What are the typical work environments and employees like?
Most employees are actually really sweet and incredibly hardworking considering their criminally low pay. The problem is that they live in these small towns that don’t have a lot of other jobs available. So they take a job at this factory farm, and it’s so cruel on an institutional level that they are forced over a period of years to numb themselves to animal suffering.
As we’ve all seen, a handful of workers take it a step further and sadistically torture the animals for fun. The really scary part is how no one else does anything to stop them. Workers and managers have accepted that working with sadists is just part of the job.
Similarly, they’ve learned to tolerate extremely dangerous working conditions – everything from hazardous machinery to repetitive motion disorders to toxic waste to nosebleed-inducing ammonia levels. More often than not, farm workers are among the victims of the industrial model, not the problem.
What was your most difficult experience?
Too often, I had to watch animals die from common conditions like prolapses, joint infections, and starvation or broken necks after getting stuck in their cages. Even though these were easily treatable problems, it was just cheaper to let them die. The animals often wouldn’t even receive euthanasia, they were just left there. I’d petition my managers to do something, but they never did.
The worst were the dairy calves. They were conceived just to boost their mothers milk production, and the farm operators really didn’t care whether they survived the 48 hours before they were sent to slaughter. It was the middle of winter when I worked at that farm, and I had to watch dozens of these newborn calves slowly die of exposure in a small tin shed. I would spend my lunch break hanging out and petting them, and they’d bellow in distress whenever I got up to leave. I felt so helpless not being able to do anything.
How has this job affected you?
I’ve definitely seen some things that can’t be unseen. When I retired from doing investigations, I felt like my options were to wallow in depression or to keep doing something about it. I enrolled in law school, where I now spend much of my time figuring out new ways to get these animals the protections they deserve. In that sense, I went from someone with a passing interest in animal rights to becoming a lifelong activist. After seeing what I’ve seen, I think it would be impossible to do anything else.
What does it take to do a job like this?
It takes a robust work ethic, a lot of compassion, a cool head, and a “big picture” mentality. There are tons of times when you want to intervene, and you have to remember that the only way you’re truly going to change anything is to wait until you can take your case to law enforcement and the public.
What do you think of the "ag-gag" laws that have been introduced in several states?
Right now, it looks like at least one of these bills is going to pass. That will be a travesty for consumers and of course farm animals, since it will essentially slam shut the only window the former has into the latter’s harrowing existence. That’s no accident; people care about these animals, which is exactly why the agribusiness lobby is pushing so hard to get these laws passed.
To be frank, it really showcases how corrupt the legislative process can be. Monsanto, Cargill, Smithfield et al have basically bought their way out of Fourth Estate scrutiny. There’s no serious argument to be made that these bills benefit the public. It’s all about lobby dollars and revolving door politics. My hope is that they backfire by encouraging more people to boycott factory farm products and support groups like Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and the Humane Society of the United States.
Have you seen any changes as a result of the investigations you were involved with?
The whole farm animal welfare debate has moved forward substantially in the last few years, and there’s no doubt that investigations have been a major catalyst. We’ve moved the conversation from the margins to the mainstream.
Suddenly, major food service companies are promoting vegan and more humane animal foods. Undercover investigations have also galvanized numerous states into passing laws to prohibit some of the worst practices, like amputating body parts without anesthesia and confining animals in cages so small they can’t even turn around. Promisingly, a federal bill has just been introduced that would provide both minimum standards and transparency for the egg industry, which has historically been one of the worst offenders.
Of course, our investigations have also held individual operators accountable through criminal and civil prosecutions, some of which even managed to get these hellholes permanently shut down.
But to me, the most important changes are the ones you can’t easily see. It’s the growing number of individuals who are choosing to vote with their fork by refusing to support these cruel industries. Vegetarian eating is growing rapidly in popularity, and I have no doubt that undercover investigations are driving this laudable phenomenon.