An Australian animal rights group known as Animal Liberation is using a remote-controlled drone to keep tabs from the sky on industrial livestock operations. Factory farm owners in the Land Down Under don’t like that one little bit.
The hexacopter drone, nicknamed “Hector,” is barely larger than a radio-controlled toy. It set the Animal Liberation back a cool $17,000, however. The group spent $14,000 for the drone itself and an additional $3,000 to outfit it with a high-definition video camera, stabilizers and a 10x zoom lens.
Animal Liberation used their new drone recently to shoot video above an egg farm in Dora Creek, New South Wales. The farm advertises itself as “free-range” and therefore gets a premium price for its eggs from cruelty-conscious consumers. Animal Liberation is investigating whether that “free range” claim is legitimate. It says it is providing the footage to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for further investigation.
You can see the drone in action, as well as some of the video it has captured, here:
“[The drone] gives the opportunity to document from above 10 meters and below 30 meters, and it is lawful,” Animal Liberation executive director Mark Pearson told ABC Australia’s Landline. “[I]t’s actually vision that’s obtained without trespass, it’s obtained lawfully in our airspace so what it documents is something that can be used by all the authorities, police and the courts.”
The owner of the Dora Creek egg farm, Glenn Moncrieff, told ABC Australia that he lets his 65,000 hens outside every day, but coincidentally, the day Animal Liberation shot its aerial footage, all the hens were indoors being treated for worms.
“I find it extremely intrusive, I don’t believe these people should have the right to do what they’ve just done,” Moncrieff said. Some farmers promise they’ll shoot down a drone if they see one over their property.
Pearson says his group also has secret video shot inside the Dora Creek egg farm without permission. He doesn’t believe he or his group would be prosecuted for that trespass.
“I have been arrested and charged for trespass numerous times — about 12 times,” Pearson said. “I have no conviction as a consequence of those because the judge and the courts look at the situation, okay a person has gone and filmed and documented something, but look at what they’ve documented.”
Animal Liberation has three people trained to fly “Hector.” In coming months, the group plans to expand its aerial observation to keep an eye on cattle feedlots and live export facilities.
Drones are gaining ground as a popular and useful tool for environmental activist groups:
- In 2011, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tracked and followed a Japanese whaling fleet by using a drone.
- An amateur drone operator taking photos in the skies above Dallas in early 2012 inadvertently discovered evidence that a meatpacking plant was discharging enormous amounts of pig blood to a creek.
- An animal rights group in South Carolina called SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) intended to use a drone in February 2012 to video a live pigeon shoot, but it was shot down by an unknown person shortly after lift off.
Although amateur use of drones in the U.S. is legal in most states, activists in some states may be hard pressed to use this same technique to keep an eye on factory farms. State “ag gag” laws often include prohibitions against filming their operations, even from off-property.
For example, many of you will remember the arrest of Amy Meyer in April 2013 for violating Utah’s “ag gag” law. She was almost prosecuted for the simple act of shooting video from a public street of a downed cow being moved by a forklift outside a slaughterhouse.
It’s a safe bet that Amy’s arrest, the first-ever in the U.S. under a state “ag gag” law, will not be the last. So far, six states have active “ag gag” laws on the books: Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa and Missouri. In addition, other states have attempted, or are still considering, enacting such laws, including Arkansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming.
In states where these attempts have failed, supporters will almost certainly try again. Industrialized factory farms really do not want you prying into how they do business. Makes you wonder what they’re hiding from you, doesn’t it?
With that in mind, will activists here try the drone idea as well? Right now, that’s kind of… up in the air.
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