When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Ingrid Newkirk said that she hoped foot-and-mouth disease came to the United States, lawmakers in Wisconsin were apparently paying close attention. The state legislature is currently working on a number of bills that would provide for criminal penalties to threaten or commit acts of what is being dubbed “agri-terrorism.”
Sandy Chalmers, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
On the one hand you have a marginal and largely irrelevant fringe group that has shown a pattern of using outrageous statements to get in the newspaper. But on the other hand, we have to take any threat seriously. So, are we concerned? I think vigilance is the most appropriate term. We have to be vigilant and proactive. We have to be prepared for anything.
Part of that preparation includes new proposed laws designed to increase the penalties for damaging agricultural facilities. Several legislators are working on a bill modeled on Iowa’s strict law where vandalizing and/or terrorizing agricultural property is a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine if the total damage is more than $10,000.
Wisconsin lawmakers are also looking at Pennsylvania and Indiana statutes which provide criminal punishment for intentionally exposing agricultural animals to an infectious disease.
State Sen. Sheila Harsdof would like to extend the laws to target people who make threats to infect animals saying that, “There must be some recognition of the damage that can occur simply by making threats.”
But will any new laws be any more effective than the old laws have been in ensnaring extremist animal rights advocates. Tom Thieding, executive director of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, is skeptical. He told the Journal Sentinel,
It’s great to have a strong law on the books, but the sophistication of these wackos is so high tech and so stealth of night that our justice system is just not able to capture these people in the act. You want it in place in the event you catch these guys in the act, but it’s not going to be a deterrent. They’re going to be intent on doing it regardless of the laws that are out there.
On a side note, less than a week after the Journal Sentinel ran its story, an odd letter from animal rights activist Karen Payleitner appeared in the Journal Sentinel which give some insight into how these folks can make such ludicrous claims about animal agriculture, research, etc. — they’re too wrapped up in their fantasy world to even pay attention to their own organizations. Payleitner wrote,
I am a vegetarian, have been a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for nearly 12 years and am a member of many other animal rights organizations. The suggestion that any of us would do something so despicable as to infect livestock with a hideous disease that would harm our own or someone else’s loved ones is not only ludicrous, it is deeply offensive. It is equally contemptible to suggest that we, of all people, would want to cause horrible suffering in animals that we also love and respect.
Well at least she got one thing right, when Newkirk and Bruce Friedrich said how wonderful it would be if foot-and-mouth disease came to the United States they were once again demonstrating how offensive and contemptible PETA is.
Lawmakers work to head off ‘agri-terrorism’ in state. Jessica Hansen and Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 3, 2001.
Ludicrous to think groups would do harm. Karen Payleitner, Letter to the Editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 9, 2001.