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Amy Meyer

Ag-gags, animal cruelty and lettuce bikinis

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Amy Meyer is the face and voice of the fight against ag-gag laws.

Boise Weekly readers know all too well that the 2014 Idaho Legislature passed a so-called ag-gag measure cracking down on whistleblowers and journalists attempting to make audio or video recordings of agricultural production facilities; and the bill was quickly signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, despite 113,000 signatures on petitions and Statehouse protests pushing back against the legislation. BW readers also know that our 2011 investigation (BW, News, "Got Milk?" April 6, 2011) would have been subject to such prosecution, in spite of the fact that our reporting discovered high levels of drugs in the cattle.

Meyer is one of the first in the nation to be charged with violating a Utah Ag-Gag law similar to the one passed in Idaho. On a recent visit to Idaho, BW sat down with the 27-year-old activist to talk about her current work with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--aka PETA--her arrest and her ultimate exoneration.

I'm presuming that you're a devout vegan.

I started learning about how animals were treated in factory farms when I was in high school.

Was that something you discovered on your own?

It was a pretty personal decision. I grew up in Cody, Wyo., around a lot of pastures, and I never imagined animals being treated poorly. That is, until I watched a video called Meet Your Meat at peta.org.

Define your veganism for me.

I don't support any industry that causes animals to suffer, so I don't eat anything from an animal; I don't eat dairy, eggs, honey or meat. I don't wear anything that comes from an animal; and I don't buy products that were tested on an animal. I was 16 years old when I made that choice.

Were your family and friends supportive?

My friends think I'm right, but many of them still eat meat. My family was incredibly supportive and my mom looked up new recipes. I often wear shirts that say, "Ask me why I'm vegan." I need to engage with people to tell them how chickens are confined in crowded sheds with thousands of other birds and how smothering and heart attacks are common. They're bred to grow so large that their organs can't keep pace and that often results in crippling leg deformities.

Tell me about one of your earliest acts of activism. It involved horses and buggies, yes?

It was a 98-degree day--I heard that one of the horses that pulls carriages around Salt Lake City had collapsed. I grabbed my digital camera and took pictures of this horse--his name was Jerry--and they had to lift him, using a Bobcat loader, onto a trailer. We went to the media with the pictures and the story got bigger. But the horse-and-carriage company released a photo, saying, "Look, he's getting better." But it was a different horse. We went to the Salt Lake City Council with our proof and the company admitted that Jerry had died. We started a campaign to end the horse carriages. The Council passed some restrictions on the practice, but in my mind, that's still not enough.

And how about your now-famous arrest?

It was February 2013. I had been volunteering at a Utah animal sanctuary. And we were caring for a cow that had witnessed his family being slaughtered at a nearby operation. And whenever certain trucks passed by the sanctuary he would become very panicky.

I'm assuming that animals experience pain and fear the same as humans.

Absolutely. I decided to drive by that particular slaughterhouse--the Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City, Utah. I was standing on a public road on the backside of the slaughterhouse. I could see cows being led into the building, but they couldn't turn around when they realized where they were going. On one side of the building, you could see pounds of raw flesh being spewed out every 30 seconds. There were piles of horns all over the property.

But you were confronted by management.

The manager of the plant was very angry. He said the Utah laws said I couldn't film his property, but I was on the public road. Three minutes later there were seven or eight police cars on the scene. They asked if I was taking pictures, and I said yes. They said they were investigating suspected criminal activity and 15 minutes later, they said I was being detained. The manager insisted that I had trespassed. And 10 days later, I received a letter that said I was charged with interfering with an agricultural operation. In Utah it carries a possible six-month jail term.

When did PETA join your fight?

Soon thereafter. I sought help from the Utah Legal Clinic and PETA agreed to help with legal fees. We handed over all of our footage in a pretrial conference and that made it very clear that I was on public property. But two weeks later, a journalist, Will Potter, wrote a story about the arrest and that went viral. Within 24 hours, the charges were dropped.

How did all of this change your life?

I'm a professional activist now. I'm a special project coordinator for PETA.

A fair amount of PETA's messaging is provocative.

When you see a lady dressed in a lettuce bikini, it brings attention to serious issues. These issues are so serious and depressing, that it's good to try to make this fun.

I'm sure that you've heard the argument that a lot of PETA's messages are also sexist.

When I was a student, I was against most of those provocative campaigns, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was empowering women. A good amount of them are volunteers. Who am I to say you can't do that?

Now that you're crafting some of that messaging, have you designed a provocative campaign yet for PETA?

Not yet, but it's not out of the question.