Farm Bureau defends opposition of animal cruelty bill

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 2:32pm
Photo courtesy of Humane Society of the United States

Tennessee Farm Bureau officials defended their opposition to legislation strengthening penalties against livestock cruelty Tuesday, saying farmers fear harassment from animal welfare activists.

A crowd of officials and members of the Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby, swarmed the halls of Legislative Plaza as the bill came before the House Agriculture Committee. The committee heard testimony from both sides but didn’t vote Tuesday.

“What y'all are trying to do to us is make us the judge and the jury,” Rep. Willie Borchert, D-Camden, complained to the sponsor, Rep. Janis Sontany, before the committee adjourned.

Cruelty to farm animals is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee punishable by a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine for each count. Sontany’s bill, which she introduced in response to the worst case of equine abuse in Tennessee history, would make it a felony, the same as cruelty to companion animals like dogs and cats. The minimum punishment is a year in jail and a $3,000 fine for each crime.

Under the current law, “DAs refuse to prosecute because it’s only a misdemeanor, not much more than a traffic ticket,” Sontany, D-Nashville, told the committee.

She said she decided to introduce her legislation after 84 starving horses were rescued from a farm in Cannon County last November.

“I was asked then why the penalty was so weak for starving horses. I promised that I would file legislation to make withholding food and water to the point of death or near-death for any animal a felony. Cruelty is cruelty regardless if you’re three pounds or 16 hands high. How can we continue to say it’s far worse to starve a dog than to starve a horse?”

Farm Bureau officials insisted the current law is strong enough to deter livestock cruelty.

“The Farm Bureau and the agriculture community in no shape, form or fashion condone any type of cruelty to animals,” the bureau’s Rhedona Rose testified. “Our folks believe in taking good care of animals. That’s what their livelihood depends on.”

Farm Bureau president Lacy Upchurch said animal welfare activists don’t understand modern farm practices and could misinterpret them as mistreatment of livestock.

"We’re painted as the bad guys. We’re afraid that farmers might be harassed a little bit over this issue,” Upchurch told reporters.

The House Agriculture Committee, which is dominated by farmers, is widely expected to kill the bill this session. In a letter to constituents, Sontany accused Farm Bureau officials of rejecting her attempts to craft a compromise acceptable to both sides.

“When I first drafted this legislation, I met with Farm Bureau Insurance Company’s lobbyists to try to find some common ground. I was told that starving these horses didn’t rise to the level of aggravated animal cruelty and the current law was working just fine and they refused to negotiate,” Sontany wrote.

“Last week, Farm Bureau’s president, Lacy Upchurch, and their chief administrative officer, Julius Johnson, visited my office to discuss my bill. I was so in hopes that we could negotiate in good faith to have a bill that we both could agree on that would stop this continued cruelty. They, however, only wanted to express to me their concern that this legislation would land some poor farmer in jail for dehorning his cattle. My bill clearly exempts accepted veterinary practices and makes no mention of discontinuing current tax breaks for farmers on livestock.”

But Upchurch said, “The current law is enough to take care of the situation. We need our courts to enforce the laws that are on the books. If they do that, that’ll take care of the situation.”

Filed under: City News
Tagged: undefined

11 Comments on this post:

By: Equanimity on 3/16/10 at 1:16

"We’re painted as the bad guys. We’re afraid that farmers might be harassed a little bit over this issue,” (Farm Bureau president) Upchurch told reporters.

Harassed? I can't remember the last time I heard of a farmer being prosecuted for animal cruelty. I sure couldn't count the incidents of farm animal cruelty - that we've been told about - on one hand.

Fighting this legislation gives a black eye to thousands of responsible Tennessee farmers who would never let their livestock get in the terrible condition those horses were in. Frankly, I can't understand the logic in mistreating your livestock... farmers pay their bills with livestock. If some dire financial strait left a horse owner unable to feed or care for the animals, it is time for intervention, and legislation that DAs can enforce.

99.9% of farmers would never be subject to this legislation. It's good law. Let it proceed.

By: nashtnman on 3/16/10 at 1:26

If you are starving animals to the point of death you are a "bad guy". I am appalled at Farm Bureau representatives and will withdraw any support from this company immediately and hope all those that read this article will do so too.

"...might be harassed a little bit.." Well God forbid a farmer is asked questions about the animal that looks like it is starving.

“Our folks believe in taking good care of animals. That’s what their livelihood depends on.” If they are taking such good care of their animals then they should have nothing to fear.

It’s all about money isn’t it Farm Bureau!!!! I encourage anyone that does business with the Farm Bureau cancel their policies and go elsewhere. Especially since Farm Bureau is still going to court over not paying claims in the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

By: Teney on 3/16/10 at 1:38

A few months ago I sent following letter to every one of our state reps. and senators begging them to change the laws to allow anyone found guilty of animal abuse (including farm animals) to face felony charges. Unfortunately I received only 6 replies.
As most of you are aware, last week 84 horses, dogs.goats and chickens were confiscated from a farm in Cannon Co. The horses were moved to the Nashville fairgrounds to be cared for by volunteers and veterinarians. Some were found dead on the farm also. If any of you have read or seen pictures of these horses you would know they were in deplorable condition. Some of them were even too weak to stand. When an animal depends on us for food and water and proper care but are left to fend for themselves a great injustice is being done. No it a dog, cat or farm animal should be allowed to try and survive under these conditions. The owners of this farm were arrested and their bond put at $1500.00 each and of course they made bond but they surrendered their animals. Our laws, for the protection of these beautiful animals, have to be changed to include  felony charges for the mistreatment of them. The charges against these two people should have included felony charges and probably $1500.00 bond for each animal abused by them. Our country is supposed to be the richest country in the world and most Americans are giving, loving and compassionate people. This is why we must put a stop to the mistreatment of Gods creatures. We must have a bill that charges people with a felony who mistreat and abuse all animals including farm animals. People who abuse animals WILL abuse period! Please, please pass a bill that includes felony charges for all animal abuse. Thankyou very much for your time and I hope you will read replies from my contacts below as we really do need a bill passed immediately
My contacts during this period were:
Leighann McCollum who is the Tn. State Director of the Humane Society of the United States. This organization works tirelessly confronting the cruelty placed on all animals by owners who neglect them allowing them to suffer or die. Veterinarians and volunteers from throughout the country work long hours to treat and try and save these neglected animals. Rescues such as Horse Haven take injured, disguarded or neglected horses and ponies and try to restore their bodies and their faith and trust in people.
My other contact was State Rep. Leighann McCollum who has led the charge for drafting legislation that would make it a felony to withhold food and/or water from any animal.
I honor them and all those who have and are working with them as they are remarkable individuals who sincerely believe that all animals in our state have a God given right to be fed and watered by whom ever owns it farmers with farm animals, pet owners or anyone who chooses to take on responsibility of having any animal.
The Tennessee Farm Bureau, being the largest Farm Bureau in the nation along with the State Agricultural Committee and Lee Maddox apparently disagree. The Farm Bureau along with their very powerful Lobbyists state that withholding food and/or water from any farm animal does not constitute Felony cruelty and is only a misdeamnor which is simply a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine.
I am sickened by their actions and I know in my heart that this decision does not represent the decent people of my state. I only wonder how the Farm Bureau or the Tn. State Agricultural Committee and Lee Maddox would react if they were forced to stand by and watch a horse, cow or any other farm animal die a slow death from lack of food and/or water and then say that the charge is only a misdeamnor. I am ashamed of my state reps. and senators for not stepping up.
The question has been asked “Is Government Broken?” For all of us here in Tennessee who love, care for and respect all animals...Yes it is!


By: on 3/17/10 at 7:06

Sometimes Tennessee just looks supid, and since I have lived here my entire life I have seen many examples. People who are against animal protection are apparently in favor of animal cruelty. Whether it is the elected officials who oppose the legislation, the Farm Bureau and its lobbyists, or unenlighten residents of Tennessee, Tennessee is looking especially stupid about this issue.

By: sidneyames on 3/17/10 at 8:54

Sometimes Tennessee just looks supid, and since I have lived here my entire life I have seen many examples. People who are against animal protection are apparently in favor of animal cruelty. Whether it is the elected officials who oppose the legislation, the Farm Bureau and its lobbyists, or unenlighten residents of Tennessee, Tennessee is looking especially stupid about this issue.

I disagree with you. People who are against animal protection are probably against more BIG government. I'm enlightened and I treat my pets better than some people treat their human children. But I don't want "big brother and big sister" in everybody's business. When animal cruelty is reported, then the officials act on it. I bet the number of well cared for horses and livestock outnumbers the mistreated by a thousand to 1.

Tennessee is not looking stupid; just cautious about excessive Big Fat Government.

By: Teney on 3/17/10 at 11:36

"People who are against animal protection are probably against more big government?"
I really don't understand how "Big Government" has anything to do with a bill that would charge ANYONE who neglects or abuses animals (all animals) with a felony. When you talk about" BIG FAT GOVERNMENT" ask the politicians who are owned by the powerful Lobbyists..both in our states and in Washington!

By: dustywood on 3/17/10 at 12:21

IF I am not mistaken, these were animals that were on the verge of being sold...sold for what? Perhaps to be made into pet food. But even so, the animals would be worth more if they had weight on them. These "farm animals" are not wildlife. They can not leave their pens,and pastures to get to more food and water like deer can.
It is cruel to do this to anyone or any animal. Those good ol'boys did not look like they had been missing too many meals either. In rare situations horses may be used as a farm animal in this century. They are more likely to be a big pet, something for someone to enjoy and ride for leisure. It costs a lot to care for these larger animals.
As it is, the state and others are having to care for someone elses cruelity. So fines and fees should be much higher.
I believe those programs on the cable station Animal Planet, should get to work in this state. At least those who watch it will get educated on what is right and wrong.

By: TN4th on 3/17/10 at 3:15

I am a long-time member of the Farm Bureau, and I am a farmer. The Farm Bureau is way off base on this issue, and I have communicated my anger at them for opposing this bill. The bill seems fair and clear to me.

Animal rights organizations like HSUS make it harder to pass humane legislation, because they are an extreme organization, and they do poke their noses where they don't belong, and are ignorant of farm practices and animal husbandry.

However, opposition to HSUS should not translate into opposition to the most basic laws protecting animals from clear cases of abuse.

By: Teney on 3/17/10 at 6:56

To TN4th..Thankyou so very much for your comments on the animal rights issue. Many organizations have some extreme ideas as part of their beliefs as do political parties but in the end the Humane Society and its volunteers are left to cleanup and try to save the lives of animals who have been abused and neglected. Your comments as a member of the Farm Bureau and as a farmer are so very important in the cause of animal protection. I am not a member of any animal rights group..the plain fact is I just love animals and I want them treated as they should be with total care, water, food ,veterinary care and whatever else it takes to keep an animal healthy. I'm enclosing the following letter I sent to one state rep. today in hopes that others in our state gov't might read it and understand that the bill mentioned is more important than any lobbyists interests and I pray is as important to the decent people of my state as it is to me.

Date: 3/17/2010

Dear Representative Borchert,

I have lived in Tennessee for 45 years and I sincerely love my state and

it's people. I have been following the animal abuse cases here in my state

for many years and I feel with all my heart that now is the time to speak for

the abuse of all animals whether it is household pets or farm animals.

I know that you are not a representative of my district but our state reps.

together speak for all of us. I'm sure you are a very dedicated individual

who has worked hard for the people of Tn. and I pray that you will take the

time from your busy schedule to please hear me out.

A few months ago I e-mailed a letter to everyone of our state reps. and

senators begging them to change the law to charge anyone with a felony

who abuses all animals including farm animals. I received 6 answers.

Withholding water and food from any animal resulting in their starvation

and death is animal cruelty and neglect.

I know that the Tennessee Farm Bureau and it's President, Lacy

Upchurch disagree along with the State Agricultural Committee and Lee

Maddox. What I don't understand is why would they want to protect those

who would do such horrific things to farm animals. They would do better

in the eyes of decent Tennesseans to set an example for their organization

and not want to exempt those abusers from the penalties due them. Lacy

Upchurch remarked that animal activists don't understand modem farm

practices and we could mistake them as mistreatment. I have had horses all

of my life and I can assure you that I know the difference between modem

farm practices and mistreatment. That was a hollow comment made by

him. Upchurch also stated that farmers are treated as the bad guys and

afraid that they might be harassed over this issue. Never, never have I ever

known of a farmer being harassed over taking good care of his animals. If

the Farm Bureau and state Ag. Committee want to fight for farmers then let

them fight for the ones that they can be proud of, who best represent their

organization and state. The others, who abuse, need to be punished and not

by a slap on the wrist. I am not asking you to be judge and jury as you

stated but simply asking you to allow a judge or jury to hear the cases for

all animal abuse and let them decide on felony guilt or not. I believe in my

heart that those who abuse animals, all animals, will abuse period!

Thankyou very much for your time and I pray that you will reconsider this


By: TN4th on 3/18/10 at 9:47

To Teney and Others:

As a farmer and owner of horses and cows, and longtime observer of HSUS, here are some of the reasons that animal owners get distressed and defensive whenever HSUS gets involved:

They are not affiliated with local shelters and associations like the ASPCA that actually do animal care. Until recently, they spent not a dime on animal welfare, even though their fundraising efforts duped many people into thinking that they did, as well as other misleading fundraising appeals.

Some of their employees are associated with extreme animal rights (as opposed to animal welfare), including ecoterrorism. While not as extreme as PETA, their spokespeople do have a history of espousing the end to animal breeding, keeping pets, any uses of animals in research, etc.

From a more personal point of view, they were central in the passage of the act to end horse slaughter in the US. I have been involved in horse rescue for almost 20 years. While I don't "like" horse slaughter, the absence of it in the US has led to more suffering through abandonment, starvation and neglect, and truly inhumane shipment to and slaughter in Mexico. The last time I saw so much horse misery was during the recession in the early '90's, but at least someone who could no longer support their horse could send it off to slaughter, instead of starving it to death or just abandoning it.

HSUS tends to show up in situations where there are a lot of TV cameras, like Katrina and the recent horse abuse case here in TN, and they try to throw their weight around, even though their people tend to be less knowledgeable and experienced than ASPCA or other groups that could do a better (but less publicized) job of helping the animals. Why the local authorities don't kick their asses out, and work with more established animal welfare organizations is beyond me. Probably because unlike those other organizations, they show up with buckets of cash.

While they support many worthy goals, they seem to be primarily a fund raising organization which uses the millions that it raises to execute in many cases heavy-handed tactics by employees who are confrontational and ignorant of the animals, activities, or industries they are trying to affect.

By: Teney on 3/18/10 at 12:16

Last comment (I promise) To TN4th..I appreciate again your comments and filling me in on your knowledge of some welfare organizations. As I said before I am not affiliated with any animal welfare organzation. My main objective is to see that animals are not abused or neglected in any way. Withholding food and/or water from farm animals constitutes abuse ,cruely and neglect to me and I feel that of all the organizations in our state , our farm bureau should feel the same way and be willing to agree with a bill that hopefully will help prevent this. Our farm consists of our broodmares and our retired road pony. Also a rescued donkey ,two minature horses we pd. for to rescue and a 14yr. old gelding that we sold as a 3yr. old and bought back from a rescue in Pa. as he was on his way to the killers. I have seen the abuse and neglect that is perpetrated on these animals and feel that the laws are too lax on those who do so. I just chose to try and write letters to anyone in our state gov't who might read them and understand that animal welfare is important to the majority of people in my state and country. I don't have any political "pull" such as the large organizations in Tn. with their lobbyiest and wouldn't want any. I just want to try and impress upon them that allowing this bill to go thru is the right thing to do.