Humane Society Undercover Investigators Shine A Bright Light on Unsustainable Farming Practices

There is a scene in Robin Cook’s novel Toxin, in which the doctor, whose daughter has died of food poisoning after eating a hamburger, sneaks into a slaughterhouse to try and understand how this could have happened. What he finds there is not only revolting and disturbing to the point of being nightmarish, but also, according to undercover investigations conducted by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), not that far from reality.

Mary Beth Sweetland, the senior director of investigations for HSUS, oversees a team of very brave and dedicated reporters that work undercover, not only in slaughterhouses and factory farms, but also in research labs, puppy mills and zoos.

“I admire the heck out of them,” said Sweetland. “I should probably tell them that more. I wish they could get the recognition that’s due to them.”

Their work and its impact are reminiscent of what Ralph Nader and his team did in the name of consumer protection in the 1970s. Nader’s outspoken activism led to a substantial number of consumer and environmental laws, including, the National Auto and Highway Traffic Safety Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Several federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Administration all came into being, largely as the result of his efforts.

For example, it was a HSUS investigation of the Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse in Northern California, including a video, shot by a worker inside the plant, that captured cruelty and the slaughter of animals too sick to walk, in violation of food safety requirements, and led to the recall of 143 million pounds of beef from school cafeterias in 36 states, as well as the ultimate banning of this meat from the food supply.

Likewise, an undercover worker in Vermont, shot video that  “showed day-old veal calves too weak to stand being shocked, dragged and skinned alive in the plant,” The disclosure led to the arrest of the worker responsible, the shutdown of the plant pending management changes, and a new regulation banning the use of such “downer” calves.

More recently, disclosures about the cruelty associated with gestation crates in pig operations have led to numerous companies voluntarily backing away from the practice.

As the result of all the negative press and the financial impacts that have come with this degree of involuntary transparency, these large scale animal operations are determined to enshroud their goings-on in a cloak of secrecy, with a set of anti-transparency, or “ag-gag” laws. These laws, which have already passed in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, and Utah, with five more states on the way, make it a misdemeanor, or in some cases, a felony, to photograph or videotape commercial agricultural operations. This, of course, means that these brave souls, who are going undercover to shine a light on this outrageous behavior, now face criminal prosecution and possible jail time for doing it.

I guess you could say that this is taking, “if you knew what was in it you wouldn’t eat it,” to another level. But this is no laughing matter. These operations that have, in certain cases, already shown themselves capable of unspeakable atrocities, shoddy safety practices, a stubborn unwillingness to comply with health and sanitation regulations, and blatant disregard for environmental concerns, are in a position to inflict tremendous harm on the world around them and the people living in it.

These actions, along with massively funded efforts to hide the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in food products reveals a truly sinister effort by the industry that provides food to the majority of Americans, to keep us in the dark about how our food is produced. This is just downright wrong. The fact that they have used their lobbying dollars to co-opt the government into abandoning its sworn duty to protect the American people is unconscionable. Clearly, these companies are on the wrong side of history.

I think we have made it abundantly clear in these pages, day after day, from every conceivable angle, that our best hope for a viable future is a trusting and transparent relationship between businesses and consumers, committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit.

These companies, clinging to an outmoded way of doing business based on the fundamental absence of transparency, propped up by corrupt relationships with politicians that, desperate for campaign funding, go against the interests of their constituents to support these efforts that pit profits against people and planet, will not stand up to the light of day.

In this era of instantaneous worldwide communications, they are fighting a losing battle against the very consumers they have been selling to, consumers who are become better informed every day and are beginning to demand meaningful relationships with those that they have entrusted to provide them with something as essential as the food they feed their families.

With Thanksgiving just behind us, this is a good time to tip our hat in appreciation of the Humane Society for all the brave and important work that they do.

[Image credit: Marji Beach: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

17 responses

  1. you mean the same Mary Beth Sweetland who lived for years because of INSULIN derived from ANIMALS.. that same one.. who worked for PETA where they kill over 97% of the animals they “take in” every year.. that same Mary Beth Sweetland.. oh yes let’s use her as example of how we should not use animals in research.. she would probably be dead if were not for animals research and animal related insulin. what a hypocrite.

    1. Fearnot has had a particular beef with the Humane Society waaaaay back when Missouri was trying to to pass adequate legislation to control dog-farmers and puppy-millers.

      Fearnot was loud in support of the puppy-millers..Fearnot also maintains the right to keep a couplela’ 5 foot alligators in the bathtub, to beat circus elephants with bull-hooks and basically anything else nasty that animal protection groups try to prevent.

      If the Humane Society doesn’t like it by golly, Fearnot does.
      Fearnot is also loud in favor of the ‘breeding rack’ used by Pit Bull’ ‘hobbyists’.
      Fearnot also fails to note that technology has progressed far enough to make most animal experimentation obsolete…and that most of it today is for ‘cosmetic’ burning rabbits’ eyes out in order to test a groovy new hair dye.
      Fearnot belongs to a peculiar group who calls ANYONE who supports the Humane Society a ‘vegan radical’ or a ‘paid HSUS shill’ an ‘animal-rights troll’ or some such ridiculous nonsense.

      Lord save us all from the fearnots.
      I fear LOTS for the educational system..

      1. Thanks Nina, This type of evil does not stand up well to the light of day. I don’t think Ms. Sweetland is a hypocrite for using insulin, if indeed she does, if that is her only option. As we progress as a society, we need to identify those areas where more humane options are needed and invest in developing them. People like Fearnot illustrate clearly why the principle of freedom must by subordinated to a higher principle in a civilized society lest we condone the harming of others in its name.

        1. Sensible people understand that this can be a grey area…although as technology progresses we must expect… and demand.. less use of animal experimentation.
          Like anywhere else where animals are concerned, there are some very very bad actors…abusive thugs…criminals hiding abuse behind a corporate veil.
          One would think that the decent humane farmer, the conscientious scientist, even the reputable breeder would stand up against the bad actors in their professions…the criminals and the abusers who accomplish nothing but harm to their professions
          One would think…….
          Instead they are lined up like pigeons on a wire waiting to poop on the humane organizations who would not exist were it not for these bad actors.
          It’s a thing of wonder…..

    2. @Fearnot~If you’re going to call an animal advocate out for the
      “hypocrisy” of consenting to life-saving treatment, when the
      alternative is limb loss, kidney failure, blindness and death, you might want
      to reconsider leading off with a statement that shines a glaring light on your own hypocrisy. Let me see if I have this straight: you don’t have a problem with tens of billions of animals being violently disassembled in research laboratories and
      slaughterhouses every year–but you’re appalled that PeTA humanely euthanizes
      five or so owner-surrendered animals every day–animals who require the service
      for a current crisis of illness, injury, or emotional devastation? Am I picking
      up what you’re laying down here?

      Let me take you to school: Animal advocacy is about opting out of animal
      exploitation where the choice to do so exists. Where the choice does not yet
      exist, we champion that the opportunity be made available to us in the future.
      Making hard choices when no other alternative exists doesn’t define one’s
      character. It’s what people do when given a choice that truly defines who they
      are. So, no. You do not get to use the “hypocrisy” of an animal
      advocate’s receiving lifesaving treatment as your excuse for tucking into a cheeseburger and not really caring that the individual it used to be was confined and deprived for the whole of her life. But you’re absolutely right about one thing:
      everybody hates a hypocrite.

  2. OH lord the trolls are out in force.. Terry Ward “aka Nina Schipperkee”and the rest of the “animal lovers” who think that freedom must be SUBORDINATED to whatever “crisis cause” they are thinking about today..

    all of you should read this very carefully:

    “the principle of freedom must by ( sic) subordinated”

    personally that is enough said to these morons.. as for “fearing for the education system”.. yes i do when people think our hard won freedoms must by ( sic) subordinated to animals..

    as for PETA killing “only 5” animals per day and trying to claim they are all “hopeless” nice try but the facts abound they the bunch of “thugs’ that are killing for NO REASON.. they do no research on the animals they kill..they don’t eat them.. they don’t use them.. they just kill them .. for fun..their motto?/ animals are not ours to eat, or use or wear..” .. they forgot the animals are ours to kill for no reason part..

    Sweetland supports this killing while using drugs that keep her alive.. meanwhile she does not want anyone else to have the same benefits.. yes that is hypocrisy

    Each of you that post here should wear an bracelet that says..

    “In case of unconsciousness I do not want to be kept alive by any methods that have been developed by research on any animal “.. your children ( if you have any) and your spouse ( if you have one) should also wear the same.. oh and let’s not forget your pets ( those nice Schipps).. make sure they never are treated with any medications or procedures that have been tested on any other animal.. refuse all of these and we won’t have to worry about you or your pets any longer.. you can stop being a hypocrite right now by doing this small thing for “other animals”..stop using any products that have been tested on animals of any type..including bug spray, rodent traps and, of course, the “blue juice” so favored by PETA and the HSUS as a “humane” method of killing..

    Definition of HYPOCRITE

    1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue

    1. Fearnot is perhaps confused as to the workings of the internet?

      Possibly she does not understand that a simple click on ‘Nina Schipperke’ will magically lead her to my FB page and actual name, a name which I have enjoyed for many years..
      Fearnot chooses, instead, a doppelganger…
      Possibly because she fears fearful ‘animal rights radicals’ will pounce in the middle of the night…machetes in hand a’la Mau Mau warriors..

    2. The complete sentence is that freedom must be subordinated to a higher principle in a civilized society. If you do not agree with that, if you hold no principle higher than freedom, then we have found the root of the problem right there. That would mean that in your perfect world you would be free to murder, rape, torture, steal from, etc,. any creature, animal or human, whenever you wanted to, without fear of consequence. While that might be free, it certainly isn’t civilized and certainly not a world that I or anyone I know would want to live in.

      1. what would be your “higher principle”? religion? Yours or another? Ethics? yours or another? Morals? yours or another? what “higher principle” is more important to you than individual liberty? there are many places on this earth where individual liberty is not valued.. and where people would be more than happy to restrict your liberties in favor of that “higher principle”.. please go there to live

        1. One of those places is the United States of America and those principles are encoded in our legal system which continually evolves to reflect the will of the majority of the people. So, if there is someone who doesn’t fit in and needs to look for their tribe, I’m afraid that would be you.. Being more tolerant than you, I won’t ask you to leave, but I would ask that you respect the rights of others and the rule of law.

  3. “Making hard choices when no other alternative exists doesn’t define one’s
    character. It’s what people do when given a choice that truly defines who they
    are. So, no. You do not get to use the “hypocrisy” of an animal
    advocate’s receiving lifesaving treatment as your excuse for tucking into a cheeseburger”

    actually it does define one’s character….and there is always an alternative.. just say NO to drugs or procedures developed by the use of animal research.. I do not understand the “hard choice’.. either you believe in animal research or you don’t.. of course if it keeps you alive.. or ones you love alive ( including your pets) then you will choose to use the research.. and when you desire to keep others from the same.. you are a hypocrite…off now to eat a nice juicy cheeseburger.. and give my dog his heartworm medication..

  4. Again. You can sell your “If she gets to use lifesaving medication, then I get to eat guilt-free cheeseburgers” somewhere else. We’re not buying it here.

    Currently, the FDA requires that all pharmaceuticals be tested on animals, so no. She doesn’t get to opt out. And neither do any number of men, women, and children who otherwise try to live their innate human compassionate values. That’s just the way it is. Maybe you feel that they should become martyrs for the cause, but I hope they decide to stick around and demand alternative forms of testing. Biomedical research on animals has outlived its usefulness, and even the National Institute of Health thinks so. They have appointed a committee to not only promote the development of alternative methods of testing, but to also design a graceful exit strategy from the current practice of maiming little animals in laboratories. Gosh. I thought all reasonable people would want to see biomedical research on animals end, especially when it means that better, safer, more promising methods of pharmaceutical development will be its result. Apparently, your mileage varies.

    “Peta Kills Animals” is a front group for the agriculture industry, and they really don’t deny it. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more to visit this site:

    1. LOL a whole 23 people agree with you about PETA hardly a majority. PETA kills animals because they can.. Ingrid Newkirk is an animal killer and even states that she enjoys killing no matter who supports the website the truth is truth PETA KILLS ANIMALS that are healthy and “adoptable” and they lie about it.

  5. As we predicted fearnot just couldn’t help ‘hisself..
    He had to plunk the ‘troll’ twanger…
    Alas, fearnot appears also to be suffering from PETA Derangement Disorder disorder.
    A condition which causes the sufferer to shout the word PETA! many many times a day.

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