Crushing Blow Delivered to Animal Rights Fanatics
June 8, 2007 â€“ In a crushing blow to animal rights fanatics who believe that animals are not ours to eat, own or use, Glenn Esbenshade, a law-abiding, tax-paying, job-providing farmer in Pennsylvania, and a manager on his farm, were found not guilty of animal cruelty in a case instigated by a Washington, DC-based animal rights group.
"I am pleased with the decision," Esbenshade said soon after learning the verdict. "Our company has and will continue to be committed to animal welfare, food safety and environmental stewardship."
Lancaster County poultry extension educator Gregory Martin, who testified in the case for the defense, told the Lancaster New Era that a different verdict could have set a precedent. "It would have opened the door for more actions (against farmers)," he said.
The case came about because, under false pretenses, a young man applied for a job on the farm then reportedly took over two hours of video in the layer houses that possibly included intentionally posed scenes. He then turned over to vegan activist group Compassion Over Killing (COK). The COK extremists carefully edited the video down to 20 minutes of the most disturbing footage, possibly including stock footage that may not have been from the farm, which they presented to Humane Officer Johnna Seeton, who has been sympathetic to other animal rights causes, especially anti-hunting initiatives.
Seeton brought charges without ever having stepped foot on the farm, though Pennsylvania law clearly gave her the capability of investigating the farm on her own. During trial, the defense questioned whether the birds shown in compromised positions were posed. After the verdict, Esbenshade said his family business, which has operated since 1963, would not be operating if conditions depicted on the videotape accurately represented his facilities.
Esbenshade pointed out that COK â€œwants to change Americans' diet from animal protein-based to vegetable based. They are against animal production or using animals as food.â€�
â€œThis verdict is a solid indicator that a farmer with a quality animal welfare program can still be attacked through the legal system by animal rights fanatics who care more about their agenda than they do the truth,â€� said Kay Johnson, Executive Vice President of the Animal agriculture Alliance. â€œThe truth is that there are about 600,000 birds on that particular farm and if an employee wanted to pose a few in compromising positions for misleading photos, that employee would likely be able to do so. It is gratifying that the court saw through the careful editing.â€�
â€œBut an important lesson from this attack,â€� Johnson continued, â€œis that America's farmers and ranchers need to be vigilant. Mr. Esbenshade has a long-term commitment to animal welfare and highly credible third-parties were willing to attest to his commitment. The Alliance highly recommends that all farmers and ranchers adopt animal welfare guidelines, if they have not already done so.â€�
A brochure highlighting producer-driven animal welfare guidelines is available on the Alliance website under the Animal Welfare tab at www.animalagalliance.org.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is a broad-based coalition of individual producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailers. The Alliance's mission is to communicate the important role of animal agriculture to our nation's economy, productivity, vitality, security and that animal well-being is central to producing safe, high-quality, affordable food and other products essential to our daily lives.