Mercy for Animals, a nonprofit group best-known for its undercover investigations into practices used at factory farms, will be hitting South Florida just in time for spring break, though beaching and boozing don't really seem to be on the agenda. The visit also coincides with the recent passage of a bill by the Florida Senate Agricultural Committee that would outlaw the "behind the meat" footage used by MFA and other animal rights groups to spread their pro-veg message.
MFA is currently in the midst of a cross-
country tour, the focal point of which is a customized truck outfitted with giant TV screens and a sound system. This roving media center is used to broadcast Farm to Fridge, a graphic documentary not rendered any less horrific despite the presence of actor James Cromwell's dulcet narration.
The group will stop in Miami on Wednesday night before coming to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday. The truck will be stationed from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m. Thursday at the corner of Andrews Avenue and Las Olas Boulevard, though times and locales are subject to change based on weather, traffic, etc.
Farm to Fridge (see the video below) uses footage captured in various undercover operations at industrialized farms in the United States. Be warned: The video is very difficult to watch, though not entirely new(s) for anyone who has seen movies like Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation, which show similarly vivid imagery of what goes on behind closed doors at large-scale farms and slaughterhouses. You could argue, of course, that animal rights groups sensationalize the situation and that certain aspects when taken out of context paint an unfair portrait of the industry. But it is hard to rationalize in what context it would be appropriate or necessary for a grown man to beat a calf about the head with his fists as can be seen during the "Dairy" segment of Farm to Fridge.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm vegetarian and have been for 16 years. Does that inform my views on such hot-button topics as animal rights? Probably, but I believe whether to consume meat is an incredibly personal matter. What is interesting to me in this debate is not how you feel about whether animals should be used as food but rather the consumer's right to know about what that process entails.
Hence, the really interesting aspect of Farm to Fridge and the Florida segment of the tour. A piece of legislation introduced by Republican state Sen. Jim Norman that recently passed the Senate Agricultural Committee would criminalize some of MFA's actions. Senate Bill 1246 would make it a first-degree misdemeanor for anyone other than certain government agents and law enforcement to "enter onto a farm or other property where legal agricultural operations are being conducted and produce audio or video records without the written consent of the owner or an authorized representative of the owner." The original wording of the bill rendered such an act as a first-degree felony and didn't specify that the perp had to enter the property, meaning, someone snapping a pic from the roadside would have been subject to felony charges.
Even with the amended language in place, animal rights and consumer rights groups are none too pleased with the bill as it stands. When asked in an email interview about SB 1246, MFA founder and Executive Director Nathan Runkle said:
"This bill is a blatant violation of free speech and freedom of the press... Consumers have a right to know how their food is produced and how animals on factory farms are treated so they can make informed choices."
For his part, in a story in the St. Petersburg Times, Sen. Norman was quoted as saying he wrote the farm bill to protect Florida farmers from "unfair outside assaults."
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Can't make it out to downtown Fort Lauderdale this Thursday? You can still have your appetite/day ruined here: