Update on a National Movement that Threatens Food Safety and Freedom of the Press while Perpetrating the Criminal Abuse of Animals
June, 2013 Ag-gag bills are part of a national effort by agribusiness groups to pass laws that make it difficult or impossible to expose inhumane or illegal behavior at animal-use enterprises, including factory farms. The term “ag-gag” was coined by Mark Bittman in an April, 2011 New York Times column and has become the standard term for laws intended, through a variety of questionable strategies, to prevent whistleblowers from photographing or videotaping on factory farms without the owners’ consent.
In Minnesota, Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection and other concerned organizations and individuals have so far, prevented a Minnesota ag-gag bill from advancing.
Ag-gag bills were proposed in 2011 in Iowa (passed), Florida (defeated), New York (died), and Minnesota (died); in 2012 in Indiana (died), Utah (passed), Nebraska (died), Illinois (defeated), and Missouri (passed, modified); and in 2013, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, California, Vermont, and North Carolina. Three similar bills, more broad in scope rather than limited primarily to recording were passed in Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota in 1991. (For more background and updates, see LINKS below.)
Growing efforts by powerful players in industrialized farming to keep their practices secret led many to wonder if 2013 is “the year of ag-gag.” But the broad and varied coalitions of animal protection organizations, food safety professionals, and labor groups opposing ag-gag know that, as Timothy Pachirat, author of Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight notes, ag-gag laws “point to the deep fear on the part of the industrialized animal industry about what might happen if the everyday violence against animals and workers were made public.”
In fact, in modern times the effective enforcement of laws requiring humane treatment of animals and food safety regulation has long relied on undercover video investigations by reporters and citizens to make abusive practices visible and offer proof of criminal activity. Time and again, it has been the undercover whistle blowers who exposed the worst cases and became the catalyst for criminal prosecution and corporate reforms. The public has been horrified at such recorded acts as the kicking and beating of downed and sick cows, the chemical burning of horses’ legs, the burning and snapping off the beaks of young chicks, and the flinging of piglets into the air to smash on the floor.
But the ag-gag lobby is well organized and well-funded. One egregious example is the provision meat industry advocates, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, inserted in a number of ag-gag bills that offers whistleblowers protection from prosecution if they turn over their videos of documented abuse to legal authorities within 24 to 48 hours. At first blush it sounds good, but experienced investigators of abusive and criminal practices know it can take months to complete a credible investigation. Undercover workers cannot document a pattern of abuse, gather enough evidence to prompt a government investigation, and determine whether or not managers condone the abuse within only one to two days.
Ag-gag bills are not designed to prevent future abuses, but to silence the whistleblowers so that ‘business as usual’ can continue unimpeded. MVAP will remain vigilant and continue to work with other concerned Minnesota groups and individuals who want to make sure that ag-gag doesn’t happen in Minnesota.
For more information and updates, please visit:
Source Watch– includes US map of ag-gag laws and bills
New York Times: Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime
Humane Society of the United States: Anti-Whistleblower Bills Hide Factory-Farming Abuses from the Public
ASPCA: State-Level Ag-gag Legislation