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Could Drones Finally Expose One Of The Country’s Most Secretive Industries?

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"Could Drones Finally Expose One Of The Country’s Most Secretive Industries?"

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The promotional video for a proposed investigative project on factory farms

The promotional video for a proposed investigative project on factory farms

CREDIT: Kickstarter

Are aerial drones the answer we need to a wave of state laws seeking to criminalize efforts to expose health hazards and inhumane practices on corporate farms? One animal rights activist thinks so, and he’s won over hundreds of supporters who have donated money to help him prove his point.

Will Potter, a journalist who focuses on issues related to animal rights and civil liberties, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to to raise money to finance a drone investigation of the country’s notoriously shady factory farms. “In my new project, I am going to use new investigative journalism tools to help expose what some corporations want to keep hidden. With your support, I will lawfully document factory farms in multiple states using aerial drone photography,” Potter explains on his fundraising page. He met his $30,000 goal in just five days.

Potter’s project is in direct response to so-called “ag gag” laws, which prevent activists from exposing inhumane practices within the agricultural industry. This type of legislation, which is pushed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has steadily spread across the country over the past several years. Idaho was the latest state to enact an ag-gag law, and that measure is currently being challenged by several groups who say it will ultimately undermine animal and food safety.

Undercover investigations have a proven history of leading to change within the industry. In 2008, a Humane Society video documented a California slaughterhouse abusing and killing sick cattle, which led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history and the largest penalty ever awarded for an animal abuse case.

Potter says he was inspired by a photography project that took aerial shots of industrial farming operations. Those shots exposed the potential health and environmental hazards posed by commercial cattle feedlots. Farms haven’t been pleased about the rise of aerial photography, and have attempted to crack down on people taking shots from above — which made Potter wonder what exactly they’re trying to hide.

“Will a drone allow us to see the scope of pollution caused by these industrial operations? I’m going to find out,” Potter writes. His Kickstarter notes that his investigation will eventually be turned into a book and a documentary.

In a recent interview with Salon, Potter said he’s had a really positive reaction for his campaign, which “seems to really resonate with people.” A lot of people were intrigued by his idea, even if they hadn’t followed these agricultural issues closely before. One particularly generous donor recently agreed to match any donations over $45,000 that Potter’s project takes in.

Unmanned aerial systems, or drones, have become notorious for their implications for privacy invasions and human rights abuses. But they’re increasingly being used in other ways, too — and in 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will open up American airspace for the commercial use of drones. So far, drones have been approved to improve disaster relief and monitor oil drilling. They’ve also helped companies like Amazon and Dominoes hype up their businesses by suggesting they might start delivering via drones.

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