By Thomas Scott
Animal rights activists face a new barrier if they want to film the harmful practices of large agribusinesses. So called Ag-gag laws bring charges against anyone who attempts “to criminalize whistleblowing on factory farms,” according to the American Society for the Prevnetion of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
According to the animal rights group “the agribusiness industry has been working to prevent people from finding out about such problems by supporting anti-whistleblower bills.”
Such legislation actually led to misdemeanor charges for a woman in Utah, who was caught filming at a slaughterhouse. Though the charges were dropped, the laws are still intact, meaning that the same charges could be brought against someone else. Only Missouri, Utah and Iowa have such laws on the books as of yet, but similar legislation has been introduced for consideration in several other states.
In California, however, a similar bill was removed by its author before it could enter committee.
A proposed bill in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to download clandestinely filmed videos by animal rights via the Internet.
From the perspective of the agribusinesses, animal rights activists, as Brandom Keim on Wired.com puts it, tend to misrepresent “what actually happens on farms, turning isolated incidents into inflammatory narratives of routine abuse that further … [their] goals.”
Agribusinesses also argue that Ag-gag laws protect the personal liberty of farmers who would otherwise be subject to the excesses of anti-meat animal rights activists. A representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which created the framework for much of the legislation, noted that most people “wouldn’t want me coming into [their] home with a hidden camera.” Animal rights activists refute this notion, pointing out that without activists exposing the conditions in slaughterhouses and similar facilities, many of the abuses of agribusinesses would go unnoticed.
Moreover, the risks to public health might not be revealed until it is too late. A case that is often heralded is a 2006 video in which a cow is shown being fork lifted into a slaughterhouse because it was too sick to walk upright. The video provoked the biggest meat recall in American history.
Another prominent case in 2011 involved a video of Butterball turkeys, which according to the ASPCA were “hit with … metal rods, violently kicked, thrown hard against the side of a truck and dragged across the floor. The video also shows birds suffering with bloody open wounds, broken bones and diseased eyes.” The outrage prompted by the video ended with felony indictments for five Butterball employees.
If Ag-gag laws had been on the books in both those cases, then despite their harrowing revelations, those who filmed the videos could have been the ones brought up on charges instead.