Drone on the Farm: An Aerial Exposé


Humm Texas again, a Kickstarter campaign to fund an investigative movie into environmental issues down on the farm.

Some of you might remember the River of Blood story that we ran a while ago. Dronejournalism.org recently ran the rather shocking update to that story.

The Columbia Packing Company in Dallas, Texas, which was discovered in 2011 to have been dumping blood into a river after a drone enthusiast captured aerial photos of the meat-packing plant, was fined $100,000 for violating water code.

However, plant operators will not be serving jail time, as a state district judge dismissed than a dozen felony charges last week, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The charges were dropped by request of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which a Dallas city councilman said had mishandled the investigation. That councilman, Dwaine Carraway, told reporters that Columbia misled the city, and that the city should revoke its permits to operate.

In 2011, a hobbyist flying a small, camera-equipped, remote-controlled airplane took photos of the Trinity River which launched an investigation into the nearby plant. Interviewed by sUASNews.com in January 2012, the pilot said he initially didn’t know what was wrong with the river, but that “Whatever it is, it was flat out gross.”

“Then comes the question of who do I report this to that can find out what it is and where it is coming from,” he wrote.

Here comes the Kickstarter

What are factory farms hiding with “ag-gag” laws? I’ll combine drone photography with investigative reporting to find out.

Hi, my name is Will Potter. I’m an independent journalist based in Washington, D.C., and the author of Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. I am also a 2014 TED Fellow.

My work focuses on animal rights and environmental issues, and civil liberties post 9/11. It has been featured in the world’s top media outlets, including the Washington Post, NPR, Rolling Stone, Foreign Policy, and El Pais. I’ve testified before the U.S. Congress about my reporting, and I’ve lectured at nearly 200 universities and public forums about my work, including Harvard Law School, Georgetown University, and the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Berlin.

I have extensively documented how protest and whistleblowing is being criminalized. Now, in my new project, I am going to use new investigative journalism tools to help expose what some corporations want to keep hidden.

Factory Farms Want to Keep You in the Dark

A wave of undercover investigations by groups like the Humane Society have exposed shocking cruelty on factory farms: cows being kicked in the face, turkeys beaten with pipes, and chickens packed in filthy cages so small they cannot even flap a wing. This whistleblowing has prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history and multiple criminal prosecutions. Rather than address these abuses, though, the agriculture industry is trying to hide them from consumers.

New “ag-gag” laws make it illegal to photograph animal cruelty on factory farms; in some cases, exposing cruelty can lead to more jail time than committing it. These bills have already become law in Utah, Iowa, Missouri, and Idaho. Right now, more states are considering them, and they are spreading globally. The agriculture industry in Australia is modeling its “ag-gag” laws after those in the states.

The latest trend is that the agriculture industry is even trying to ban photographs of farms taken from the air. It is unlikely that aerial photography can document animal abuse, but these industries are clearly concerned. So what are factory farms 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… 

Let’s Shine a Light

As a journalist, I think the best way to confront these attempts at secrecy is to shine a light on the abuses.

With your support, I will:

  • Lawfully document factory farms in multiple states using aerial drone photography.
  • Create a short documentary about factory farms and the “ag-gag” controversy using aerial drone footage, and interviews with whistleblowers.
  • Publish an e-book that combines these photographs with in-depth investigative reporting on factory farms and “ag-gag” legislation.
  • Use the investigation to contribute to public debate about “ag-gag” laws internationally.
  • Brief media and policymakers about the findings of my investigation
  • Share what I have learned about using drones for reporting with other journalists and professional journalism associations.
  • Plus offer some fun, unique perks to say THANK YOU for supporting investigative journalism!