The new year has brought new legislative attempts by Nebraska, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Arkansas and Indiana to silence those who attempt to bring animal cruelty at factory farms into the public eye.
In New Hampshire, HB 110 will require anyone who records cruelty to livestock to report it within 24 hours. In Wyoming, HB 0126 will make taking pictures or audio recordings a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $750 fine, in addition to requiring people to report abuse within 48 hours.
In Nebraska, LB 240 will make it so that anyone who obtains work under false pretenses and causes more than $100,000 in economic damages or serious bodily harm will face felony charges. Nebraska also intends to institute a 24 hour reporting requirement.
The reporting requirements may seem like a good idea, but they will prevent anyone from documenting repeated acts of cruelty or showing patterns of abuse.
Arkansas is considering two bills SB 13 and SB 14, which will make it illegal to take image and audio recordings, in addition to making an investigation by anyone other than a law enforcement officer a Class B misdemeanor with the potential for a fine of up to $5,000. The bills in Indiana, SB 373 and SB 391, will make it illegal to take photos or videos at agricultural operations and will require the Indiana Board of Animal Health to maintain a record of offenses.
Undercover videos from organizations such as Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have played an important role in exposing not only egregious abuse and unsanitary living conditions that farm animals are forced to endure, but have also drawn attention to standard industry practices that don’t seem to fit into the mainstream idea of humane treatment of animals and in some cases have resulted in criminal charges and new laws.
In 2004, an undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Farming Association resulted in the forced closing of the HKY Inc. hog farm in Nebraska.
Wyoming’s bill was introduced only weeks after nine workers were charged with animal cruelty at Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods, following an undercover investigation by the HSUS.
The HSUS’s undercover investigation of Westland Hallmark Meat Co. conducted in 2008 brought horrific abuse to light that resulted in one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history, in addition to the largest settlement ever for a case involving animal cruelty.
Unfortunately, North Dakota, Kansas and Montana passed laws in the early 1990s that make it a misdemeanor to enter facilities that are closed to the public or to take photographs and audio/video recordings.
Utah, Iowa and Missouri joined these states when they enacted ag gag legislation last year, while similar bills failed in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Nebraska and Tennessee.
These laws are dangerous, not only for the animals who suffer behind closed doors, but also because they pose threats to food safety, free speech, the environment and our ability to make educated food choices.
According to a poll conducted by the ASPCA, 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal advocacy organizations, while 64 percent oppose making undercover investigations of animal abuse illegal.
“We are very encouraged that the public recognizes the importance of these investigations and the threats that ag-gag bills pose to American values,” said Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s farm animal welfare campaign. “Americans deserve to know where their food comes from and how it is produced, and the industry should welcome that transparency.
Yet, despite opposition from the general public, animal advocates and consumer groups, Big Ag continues to try to hide its illegal and unethical activities from the public, instead of taking responsibility for them.
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