Slaughterhouse Jive

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0614PHMPF05**This story has been amended from its original version to correct an error regarding the legislative progress of HB 2587.

Last-minute, pro-rancher provisions in an animal abuses bill get hacked amidst an uproar from animal rights groups.

Don’t look while laws or sausages are being made, Otto von Bismarck supposedly said. But who knows what witticism the Iron Chancellor might have coined about laws regulating animals that could end up as sausages. Especially when those laws are made in Arizona.

House Bill 2587, originally intended to prevent pet-hoarding, squeaked through the state house with a 33-24 bipartisan vote. The once-benign bill was made controversial by provisions it picked up in the legislative chute that opponents say shield the livestock and poultry industries from animal cruelty charges. Though stripped of its more radical provisions, HB 2587 still has fangs. Supporters like the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association call the current bill a compromise between rural and urban interests. Animal-welfare groups see a bill hijacked by the livestock industry.

Bill co-sponsor Kate Brophy McGee (R) says the idea was to stop pet-hoarding and tighten definitions of domestic-animal abuse. She wasn’t happy with some of the pro-ranching riders, but says “The decision was either not to sponsor, or to sponsor and work to make the bill better. I chose the latter.”

The pro-ranching elements ultimately cut from the bill were introduced by main sponsor Rep. Brenda Barton (R), and in a Senate committee by majority whip Steve Pierce (R). Pierce’s Senate bio lists his occupation as rancher, and discloses past membership on the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Arizona Beef Council; in her House bio, Barton (who didn’t respond to interview requests from PHOENIX magazine) calls herself a fifth-generation rural Arizonan.

On the cutting room floor: A provision to prevent local law enforcement from enforcing animal-cruelty measures, making it the exclusive job of the Arizona Department of Agriculture – which has about a dozen full-time officials for the entire state. Proponents said it would keep enforcement in the hands of experts. Critics like Matthew Strugar, a California-based lawyer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), calls it a “pretty transparent” attempt to curb enforcement.

Another cut: To force anybody with evidence of animal abuse to give it to the ADA within five days, or face prosecution. Pierce insists the provision was to protect animals. “If there is abuse occurring either with livestock or pets, I believe it should be reported [as soon as possible],” he says. “Some groups believe it is OK to document the suffering of animals over and over before bringing it to the attention of authorities... that is wrong.”

Chris Green, legislative affairs director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, sees a hidden agenda: “to prevent scrutiny” of animal abuse in farm or factory settings. Activists call it “ag-gag,” Green says. “Luckily nobody fell for it.” A single example of mistreatment of animals can be dismissed as an isolated incident, Green elaborates. It takes weeks or months to gather enough evidence to convince, say, McDonald’s and Target to drop an egg supplier, as they did in 2011 after an ABC News exposé.

The bill does contain provisions true to its original intent, making first-offense hoarding a class 1 misdemeanor, with subsequent offenses a class 6 felony.

As of press time, the bill was awaiting Senate approval. The one remaining pro-ranching provision lowers the penalty for livestock abuse from a felony on first offense to a class 1 misdemeanor. Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, says it costs at least $1 million to get a cattle ranch going: “When you have that much money on the line, you’re not going to think of abusing an animal.”

Swine and Misdemeanors
If HB 2587 becomes law, here are some changes to look for:
New definitions
Animal: A “mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian,” which “does not include livestock.”
Cruel neglect now simply means to deny an animal food, water and shelter. The bill specifies food “appropriate for the species,” water “fit for drinking,” and shelter “appropriate for the animal or weather conditions.”
Hoarding: “To shelter an animal in conditions that may cause harm to the health and safety of the animal or other animals.”

Different penalties
Pet abuse: “Cruel neglect,” now a misdemeanor, becomes a felony on second offense.
Livestock abuse: The punishment for knowing, cruel mistreatment of livestock is a misdemeanor on first offense.
Exceptions for livestock: “Normal, good husbandry practices” and “humane slaughter or euthanization” are exempt from cruelty definitions.