Factory farm workers kicking piglets and beating their mothers. Dead, decomposing chickens left in tight cages right next to living hens. It all happens in secret with no accountability for the sickos responsible.
Except when undercover investigators are on the job.
The current trend among factory farmers trying to hide their despicable practices from the public is to champion anti-whistleblower laws, generally called ag-gag bills. The bills vary from state to state, but generally they would criminalize photographing or recording the goings-on at factory farms, or even applying for a job if your intent is to conduct an undercover investigation.
The California Cattlemen’s Association introduced an ag-gag bill to the state legislature that would have required investigators to turn over any evidence of crimes at agricultural facilities to authorities within just 48 hours. It also would have criminalized undercover photography and videography at farms and slaughterhouses and exempted farms from turning over footage of animal cruelty captured on surveillance cameras.
The ASPCA reported that the sponsoring legislator had to withdraw the bill in the face of overwhelming opposition.
Over 26,000 Care2 members have signed our petition saying “No” to the California ag-gag proposal and to similar bills in other states. If you haven’t signed it yet, please do! We succeeded in California and we’re going to oppose these bills in every state that considers them.
Undercover investigations at agricultural operations are key to exposing cruelty and unsafe practices. For example, ag-gag laws might have prevented or criminalized the Humane Society of the United States’s (HSUS) investigation which yielded evidence of animal welfare and food safety violations at slaughterhouse Hallmark/Westland. Green is the New Red reported that thanks to HSUS’s evidence, Hallmark/Westland had to conduct the biggest meat recall ever in the U.S. In Wyoming, undercover video showed workers kicking piglets and beating their mothers, which led to criminal charges against the abusers.
Without these undercover investigations animal abuse (that is, beyond the baseline torture of standard industry practices) and food safety violations would continue without penalty.
Even investigations that don’t record crimes can be useful. The baseline torture that is standard industry practice — like castration without anesthesia, battery cages, veal crates, etc. — may not be criminal under most states’ laws, but showing it to the public affects their opinions of factory farming. The New York Times (which has come out against ag-gag laws) reports that the American Farm Bureau Federation, “which lobbies for the agricultural and meat industries…cautions that some methods [seen on some videos] represent best practices endorsed by animal-care experts.” They have to say that, because otherwise it would be impossible to tell that it isn’t all illegal animal cruelty.
The fight is not over. This year alone eleven states have introduced ag-gag bills so far: Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire (this bill is dead), New Mexico (ditto — dead), North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming. Other states — Missouri, Iowa and Utah – already enacted this kind of anti-whistleblower legislation. You can find out what the law is in your state and when it was passed (there was a spate of these bills around 1991) at Grist.
Some ag-gag bills are particularly egregious. Tennessee’s bill would give people only 24 hours to report any evidence they find of wrongdoing. Indiana’s would require written consent from a facility’s owner to shoot video there. Obviously there is no purpose to these provisions other than letting factory farmers continue their unspeakable methods in complete privacy.
I couldn’t possibly let go of this topic without a hat tip to the First Amendment. Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, lambastes ag-gag bills for their restrictions on the right to gather and share information and to denounce wrongs. Americans of all political stripes should oppose these laws for that reason alone.
Ha! Just kidding. Americans of all political stripes can’t do anything together. So let’s say Americans with compassion, integrity, intelligence, a passing knowledge of the Constitution, OR any sense of fairness should oppose these laws. Fit any of those criteria? Here’s the petition. Sign it.
Update (4/27/13): Indiana’s ag-gag bill has successfully been defeated! According to HSUS:
We applaud Indiana’s legislature for recognizing the folly of this dangerous bill and urge lawmakers in states with similar bills pending to follow Indiana’s lead and reject them.
Photo credit: iStockphoto