Want to take a picture or film activities in an industrial slaughterhouse or megafarm factory floor? Better think twice if you are in Iowa, Utah, South Carolina, Missouri or Arkansas. These states have passed Ag-Gag (Anti-Whistleblower) bills that restrict investigation into the treatment of animals, food and safety, and working conditions in factory farms. People have different perspectives on the validity Ag-Gag bills and the level of which they adhere to the constitution . What has led to the proposal of these bills and what do they entail?
What Has Led to the Introduction of These Bills?
Animal Rights Investigations into Factory Farms
With increased demand and appeal for cheaper prices for meat in America, the farm industry has attempted to come up with modern farming techniques to satisfy the market. Many of these modern practices only take into account the bottom line and not the quality of life for the animals. An article published in the NY Times by Michael Moss outlines and gives examples from a specific research laboratory of how animals are suffering from experiments to increase their production efficiency. This suffering includes breeding more often than natural, issues with reproduction and strength, and elevated cases of disease. While attempting to make lamb chops bigger, pork loins less fatty, steaks easier to chew many of the animals have been subjected to illness, pain and premature death. Additional problems for the animals arise while attempting to solve these issues, which leads labs to perform more experimentation in an attempt to break the cycle. Over the last 20 years it has become an increasingly popular movement in America to promote and advocate for the safe and humane treatment of animals. Because of this, there has been a rise in the amount of undercover investigations into factory farms to expose cruelty and neglect of animals. Here is a link to successful investigations.
ProtectYouFood.org published this infographic about some of their investigations and legal issues.
Argument For Ag-Gag Bills
People in the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) take issue with this movement. They are a business and many of these practices do facilitate the goals of mass production and enable them to profit at a low cost to them and consumers. For years there has been constant conflict between these operations and animal rights activists on where to draw the ethical line. In many peoples’ opinions, it is not feasible to be able to feed the world’s growing population and demand for animal products without factory farms and the practices and technology they implement. The methods of production utilized in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations enable people to pay lower prices for meat and get a more “desired” meat – like learner pork chops. Although the treatment of animals on factory farms is not ideal, many view it as a necessary means to an end.
According to Bill Gates this is the projected increase in demand for meat during the next 50 years:
Farmers are just trying to meet demand. Because of investigations pertaining to mistreatment of animals, issues with food safety and working conditions, farms have to fight legal battles, change company policy and sometimes shut down. This is not profitable for them or helpful to the American society who demands cheap meat. Also, without regulations on when and how documentation of these farms is obtained, the farms could be subjected to misrepresentation. Rep. David Taylor testified in support of Ag-Gag Bills saying, “Every farmer, I speak as a farmer, is scared to death of misrepresentation. Currently, there’s not a lot of protection for farmers, ranchers and growers.” These investigations are often published to the public before the farms have knowledge of them and are unable to defend themselves from misrepresentation.
What Affect Ag-Gag Bills Have
Ag-Gag bills are working to limit the time and accessibility to factory farms for persons perceived as possible whistle blowers. They attempt to:
- Ban taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission
- Criminalize investigators working at factory farms
- Require mandatory reporting and short timelines for documentation
What does this mean? Most cases that prove animal abuse take a great deal of access, time and documentation to be successful. Without this, it would be incredibly difficult to prove potential animal cruelty or patterns of abuse.
What could happen to you if you got caught doing any of these activities in a state that has passed Ag-Gag bills? You could:
- In Utah– receive a class A or B misdemeanor
- In Idaho– receive a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and $5,000 fine
This flowchart comically shows how someone could be impacted by Ag-Gag bills based on the context of their work and intentions.
Are Ag-Gag Bills Unconstitutional?
In 2013, 11 states proposed Ag-Gag bills however many died, were defeated and one was vetoed. What is inhibiting these bills from being passed in most states? Many bills lose traction due to issues on how they do not conform to the US constitution. Bruce Friedrich of the Huffington Post wrote an article demonstrating how the laws violate three separate Constitutional requirements. First, they violate the First Amendment because their purpose is to silence speech based on its content. Second, Ag-Gag laws prohibit undercover investigations that the False Claims Act anticipates and rewards. These state laws conflict with the goal and implementation of this federal act, therefor violate the Supremacy Clause and are unconstitutional. Third, it violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by targeting a class of citizen based on animus or hostility. Friedrich states that “The legislative history and clear intent of the ag-gag laws demonstrate that the legislators who pass them are overtly hostile toward animal protection advocates based on their political beliefs.”
The Ag-Gag law in Idaho was declared unconstitutional in 2014. One of the main reasons to support Ag-Gag laws is the potential misrepresentation for farms. The Judge stated in the ruling, ““Misrepresentations would be protected speech. Because they are not made to cause material harm to an agricultural production facility but to expose truths about the agricultural industry.” Currently there are five bills states: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Washington and Wyoming that have bills commonly considered Ag-Gag.
Some of these bills seem to work to help the animals like Colorado’s CO SB042 – Mandatory Reports Of Animal Abuse, but actually puts a quick timeline on reporting that makes carefully researching and building an investigative case impossible. Others fall into line with the Ag-Gag bills explained in this post like Wyoming’s WY SF0012 – Trespassing to collect data.
One intriguing bill is New York’s A00346. The purpose of this bill is to create a task force to study how to improve investigations of animal abuse and enforcement of anti-animal abuse laws. It also requires reporting to the governor and legislature of recommendations on how to increase statewide uniformity of such. All members of the task force will have expertise in fields or disciplines related to animals, animal abuse and/or investigations. This is a true step in a direction to make these investigations safe and reliable for both the investigators and the industrial animal agriculture industry.
In my opinion, these laws are extremely unfair and biased. The purpose of these investigations is not to misrepresent a farm, shame their reputation or decrease their profit, but to expose the truth of the unseen world of animal cruelty and abuse in the farming industry. The first case under an Ag-Gag law in Utah attempted to charge a woman who, from a public road, video taped a sick or injured cow getting forcibly moved with a bulldozer. It is not right that this could be prosecutable. Taking away the legal rights of people who are simply trying to tell the truth will not help improve the well being of our country.