New York Times writer, Mark Bittman, has been credited with the coining of the term “ag-gag”in his 2011 article about whistleblowing within the Animal Agriculture Industries, though the laws which the term refers to have been in place for over two decades.
These laws outlawed any recording within an animal facility in order to protect these businesses from the journalists and activists who had been going in undercover as employees and documenting the horrifying cases of animal abuse that had been going on.
Some such examples were the Iowa workers who admitted to sexually assaulting and abusing animals in 2009, the Humane Society’s undercover taping of pig treatments at Virginia farm, and burning of horses’ ankles at a Tennessee stable. The list of these abuse cases are endless and such practices can be expected at almost any animal facility and they are doing everything in their power to keep it behind closed doors protect themselves.
Introduction of the Ag-gag laws
North Dakota was one of the first states to introduce the concept of ag-gag laws with the “Animal Research Facility Damage” Law of 1991 in North Dakota which outlawed the videotaping or photography of animal facilities without the facility’s knowledge.
Now more than a dozen state legislatures have proposed or set in place these ag-gag laws. As Bittman said in his 2011 article, “They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which…would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.”
It is clear that these laws are directly infringing upon our freedom of speech. How are we able to find out the truth about where our food comes from if we aren’t going to be allowed to bring proof to the people?
Ag-gag Laws Today
Presently, there are seven states that have put in place ag-gag laws (though many others are working towards creating them and getting them passed). According to the Humane Society, these states are: Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri and Utah, but there are several others, including the continued enactment of the 1991 law in North Dakota.
The following are the laws involving the videotaping of animal facilities:
North Dakota: NDCC 12.1-21.1-01 to 05
North Carolina: Property Protection Act
Wyoming: Senate Bill 12
Utah: U.C.A. 1953 § 76-6-112
Iowa: House File 589
The fight against the laws
People and activist groups of all kinds across the nation are coming together to voice their opposition to these unjust laws. There is much more at risk, after all, than just the covering up of extreme animal cruelty.
Most of the undercover reporting being done at these facilities were done to bring to light the unsanitary conditions, the diseases that were running rampant among the animals and the horrifying working environments that people were suffering through to earn hardly enough money to keep their families afloat.
It came down to the safety and health of both the farm workers as well as the consumers of these animals’ bi-products. A majority of the footage and images documented prior to the enactment of these laws revealed that the food safety laws were not being followed and increasing the risk of foodborne illness among consumers by a substantial amount.
For instance, in the case of the Kentucky Pig Factory, “Sows confined in cramped cages known as gestation crates were fed ground up intestines from piglets who had recently succumbed to a highly contagious diarrheal disease…a practice prohibited by state law. This practice appears to be fairly widespread within the industrial sector of the pig industry” (Humane Society).
Practices such as this can lead to the spreading of disease to humans. The Swine Flu is an example of such an outcome.
Thus far, a majority of the attempts to enact ag-gag laws have been shut down by the outrage of the people and the unconstitutional nature of them. A New England Public Radio article from 2013 stated that, “Three states signed ag-gag bill into law in 2011 and 2012, setting new legal precedents. This year, a flurry of legislation — 15 ag-gag bills — was introduced in 11 states, but interestingly, not a single one passed.”
We must come together to continue to fight these laws. It is out right a citizens of this nation to be able to stand up for our health, for the safe and humane practices of animal agriculture, and for our right to speak out against wrong-doing.