Indiana is kicking off this year’s legislative session with the introduction of another ag gag bill that is intended to silence those who work to uncover abuse and illegal activity on farms.
Last year the state tried to pass a bill that would have made it illegal to take photographs or video recordings, not only on factory farms, but also in other types of industrial operations. Fortunately, it was defeated at the last minute thanks in large part to public backlash.
This year’s attempt to criminalize environmental and animal rights watchdogs, which was introduced by Senator Travis Holdman, is even worse. Holdman told the Indiana Business Times that this year’s attempt is different because it doesn’t address specific acts, such as taking photos.
What it does do is allow farm operators to post signs prohibiting specific actions to protect their “trade secrets” and their operations, which could include taking photos or reporting issues to law enforcement or the press.
Doing something that has been prohibited by farm operators could make whistleblowers felons. Under the bill, violators could be charged with a level 6 felony, which comes with a punishment of six to 30 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
A coalition of groups is opposing this bill and voicing serious concerns about farm operators being allowed to determine what constitutes a crime, as opposed to law enforcement or elected officials. They are also arguing that criminal and civil laws are already in place to protect farmers from trespassers, defamation and theft of their trade secrets.
Fortunately, animal lovers aren’t the only ones who are outraged over legislation that seeks to hide what goes behind the closed doors of farms. It has also sparked opposition from journalists and advocates of the First Amendment, along with those who are concerned about the environment, food safety and workers’ rights. Nearly 50 organizations with various focuses have signed onto an open letter opposing ag gag bills.
Although a few states have been successful at passing ag gag bills, including North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, which passed them in the early 1990s, and Iowa, Utah and Missouri, which adopted them in 2012, public awareness and opposition continue to grow. There were 15 attempts made in 2013 to pass this type of legislation in 11 states, including in Indiana, and they all failed for good reason.
Undercover videos from organizations such as Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States 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. In some cases they have even resulted in criminal charges and new laws.
Without them our ability to make informed decisions or generate a dialogue about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to animal agriculture is stripped away. In the end, no state should consider protecting an industry that has something to hide at the expense of animal welfare, its residents, consumer safety and the First Amendment.
Please sign and share the petition asking Indiana’s lawmakers to support transparency and accountability in agriculture and stop attempting to pass whistleblower suppression legislation.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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