Wisconsin Considers Agri-Terrorism Bills (Plus An Incredibly Misinformed Activist)

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.

Great Britain to Prosecute Farmer for Foot-And-Mouth Related Offenses

With speculation still running rampant about the source of the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in Great Britain, the Northumberland County Council recently confirmed to the BBC that it plans to prosecute pig farmer Bobby Waugh for his alleged role in the outbreak.

The Ministry of Agriculture has identified Waugh’s farm as the likely source of the outbreak. Waugh is being charged with “failure to notify the existence of disease in pigs between its occurrence and discovery by Maff” as well as “feeding unprocessed catering waste to pigs.”

Six hundred pigs at Waugh’s farm were destroyed in March in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.

Waugh denies the allegations and claims that the government is trying to turn him into a scapegoat for the epidemic.

“They are just clutching at straws,” Waugh told the BBC. “I can disprove all these charges. They are determined to make me responsible for the foot-and mouth crisis.”


Pig farmer faces prosecution. The BBC, June 1, 2001.

PETA Making Waves About Foot-And-Mouth Disease Again

Once again People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is making news by again hoping that |foot and mouth| disease finds its way to the United States. This time around its Bruce Friedrich who sent a letter to officials planning the World Dairy Expo to ask them to cancel the event. In the letter, Friedrich reaffirms PETA’s belief that the disease would be a godsend for the animal rights movement in the U.S. As is typical with PETA, Friedrich’s claims are based on lousy logic and misinformation.

According to Friedrich, if animals in the United States came down with foot-and-mouth disease this would spare them from a trip to the slaughter house. In fact U.S. agricultural officials have planned a scorched earth policy for containing a possible outbreak of the disease that would likely make the British reaction seem mild in comparison. Such planning has been kept relatively low key, but a confirmed case of the disease would result in a very thorough and systematic slaughtering of animals in the area of the outbreak to contain the disease.

Friedrich and PETA also seem to be under the impression that a foot-and-mouth outbreak might turn more people into vegetarians. “I suppose if it happens [an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the United States], we’ll write a massive thank you note because it’ll turn a massive amount of people into vegetarians.”

The immediate result of a serious outbreak would be a rapid increase in the cost of some meat, especially beef. But past disease outbreaks contradict the view that people would then turn to vegetarianism. Even in the UK, where mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth have garnered plenty of negative attention, people seem to prefer switching to meat they perceive as safe and/or cheap rather than become vegetarians.

Tom Thieding, communications director for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, came closer to the truth when he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “We’re not worried. We know there are nuts out there and PETA confirms that. We don’t get too hung up on anything that PETA says anymore.”


PETA welcomes foot-and-mouth disease. Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 24, 2001.

Newsweek Donated Ad Space to PETA; PETA Reaffirms Its Foot and Mouth Stance

Apparently not troubled at all by Ingrid Newkirk’s recent declaration that she hoped foot-and-mouth disease comes to the United States, Newsweek recently donated ad space to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

According to The New York Post, copies of the March 26 edition distributed in the New York area — including New Jersey and parts of Connecticut — featured a one-column, black-and-white ad featuring Bill Maher. Newsweek told The Post that the advertisement was a pro bono ad inserted to fill unsold ad space (a common practice with newspapers and magazines).

Bud Pidgeon, president of the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, gave a great quote to The Post,

Newsweek provided an ad to a group [PETA] who has paid the legal fees of convicted terrorist Rodney Coronado. This same group’s chairman has stated her hope that the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Europe will strike the U.S. meat industry. I really think Newsweek needs to re-evaluate who they provide free space to.

Speaking of Newkirk’s statements on foot and mouth disease, PETA recently reaffirmed her statements. In an interview with the Associated Press on April 27, she restated her hopes that the disease comes to the United States. “It’s a peculiar and disturbing thing to say,” Newkirk told the Associated Press, “but it would be less than truthful if I pretended otherwise.”

PETA’s Bruce Friedrich also got in on the act telling the Associated Press,

These animals suffer unmitigated misery throughout their lives, during transport to slaughter and in slaughterhouses where they’re routinely skinned and dismembered while conscious. Anything that accelerates the demise of the meat industry … is a very good thing.

Friedrich added that he fully supported Newkirk’s views on foot and mouth disease saying, “I can’t imagine anybody who cares about animals arguing with that statement.”


State veterinarian, PETA Head Differ On Outbreak. Steven Barrett, The Associated Press, April 27, 2001.

Dog-Gone Legislation May Target Hunters. Ken Moran, The New York Post, April 25, 2001.

Will Activists Try to Bring Foot and Mouth Disease to the U.S.?

The Associated Press ran a story on Friday about the concerns of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Rep. Michael Simpson (R-Idaho) that animal rights activists might intentionally try to bring foot-and-mouth disease to the United States. Their fear was sparked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk who a few weeks ago told reporters that, “I openly hope that it [foot and mouth disease] comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence.”

Craig and Simpson wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking the government to take steps to prevent someone from intentionally bringing the disease into the country.

We know that the department is taking steps to keep the United States foot-and-mouth free. However, we are concerned about recent press statements made by an extreme group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, where they openly hope that it comes here in order to destroy the domestic livestock industry. We are also concerned with reports from Europe that the foot-and-mouth outbreak could have been started deliberately by someone who stole a test tube of the virus from a laboratory.

Unfortunately, it would be almost impossible to stop somebody who wanted to fulfill Newkirk’s hopes. Although the government bans the import of animals and animal products from countries that suffer from the disease, it cannot ban the travel of people too and from such countries. Foot and mouth disease is so contagious that it would be relatively easy for anyone sufficiently motivated to start an epidemic here (though the size of any outbreak would depend a lot on how quickly the USDA can react).

The irony is that even without any help from animal rights activists, foot and mouth disease is extremely likely to find its way to the United States. Thanks to Newkirk’s comments, however, if and when it finally does arrive here, animal rights activists are likely to come under intense scrutiny and blame even if they had nothing to do with it.


Republicans worry eco-terrorists will unleash livestock disease. Associated Press, April 18, 2001.

Some Thoughts on Foot and Mouth Disease

After the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic that is spreading across Europe — and will likely make its way to the United States — two issues really dominated the story from an animal rights point of view. First, is the slaughter of animals really necessary? Second, did animal rights activists cause the epidemic?

The first question is easier to answer for sure — if the goal of an agriculture system is to produce meat cheaply and ensure that the foot and mouth outbreak is contained, then quick slaughter of animals is the best way to go about controlling the disease. If anything, European officials were not vigorous enough in their slaughtering of animals. A study by the UK’s Imperial College that was recently published in Science noted that to stop the disease not only should infected animals be slaughtered, but all animals within a 1.5 kilometer radius of infected farms, typically within 48 hours, in order to minimize the risk of the disease spreading. UK officials admit that while they were successful at having infected animals slaughtered, they weren’t initially able to keep up with the so-called pre-emptive slaughtering of animals near infected farms.

But wouldn’t vaccination be a viable alternative? Selective vaccination is already being explored by European officials, but there are severe drawbacks to using it as a widespread solution. First, it is obviously an additional expense, and vaccination requires an initial injection followed by a 6 month booster shot. Even then, each vaccination only covers a specific strain of the disease, and there are several different known strains of foot and mouth disease.

In addition, many countries such as the United States will not allow meat imports from countries unless they are certified as being free of foot and mouth disease free. Vaccination would permanently grind to a halt almost all British meat exports. Such bans are in place because of another problem with vacciantion — animals that have received the vaccine can nonetheless still carry the disease, without showing any symptoms, and pass it on to non-infected animals.

For these reasons, vaccination for the disease occurs largely in the developing world where the disease is often endemic. In many parts of Africa and Latin America, for example, foot and mouth disease is common and vaccination is widespread (largely because even though eradicating the disease would produce benefits, most developing countries can’t afford the initial investment costs of doing so).

Add to that the current near-hysteria among some Europeans over vaccination in general, and widespread vaccination just isn’t a very appealing option.

The second question is obviously extremely speculative — what caused the outbreak? There has been some speculation in the media that animal rights activists may have intentionally started the outbreak. Such speculation has been fueled by comments from animal rights activists, such as Ingrid Newkirk telling reporters that she hoped an outbreak of the disease hit the United States. On top of that, a vial of the disease was recently reported missing from the inventory of a research laboratory in the UK.

Still, I think it is extremely unlikely that animal rights activists are responsible for the outbreak. If they had, I doubt they would have kept it a secret. We’d be flooded with communiques (in fact, after Newkirk’s statements, I half expected the Animal Liberation Front or some other group to claim responsibility for the outbreak).

More importantly, though, Great Britain has had foot and mouth epidemics before — the last major one being in the 1960s — so outbreaks are hardly unknown, Europe in general has seen several outbreaks since the 1990s, and there are many ways in which the disease could have made it to the UK. At the moment positing intervention by animal rights activists seems to add a completely unnecessary level of complication.

The current leading hypothesis, for example, is that somebody illegally smuggled meat that was infected with the disease into the UK and then fed it to pigs. Apparently there has been a longstanding practice of airlines selling waste food, including meat, to pork producers who in turn feed it to pigs. The only problem is that some of the meat used in the meals probably comes from parts of the world that are not free of foot and mouth disease. This practice is banned in the UK, but apparently a number of suppliers were flouting the law. The current candidate for the originating site of the current epidemic turns out to be a pig farm.


Scientists back rapid slaughter policy. The BBC, April 13, 2001.

Why not vaccinate?. The BBC, April 19, 2001.

Experts assess foot-and-mouth impact. Christine McGourty, The BBC, April 18, 2001.