Thursday, March 08, 2012

The American Ag-Gag Laws

We have all seen them. Secretly taken photographs or videoes of the cruel callous conditions that many of our farm animals are subjected to. What hidden cameras have captured through the years has led to law enforcement raids, arrests, and food recalls. They have often resulted in outbursts of indignant anger and disgust and demands for more animal welfare reform.

Now in the United States despite objections by animal rights groups, the Utah Legislature has passed a bill to ban photographing farm animals or operations under "false pretenses." The first version of the bill would have banned any photos of farm animals and operations without permission. The new bill would stop activists from gaining jobs or access under false pretenses to take videos of operations. The food-lobbyists of the $74 billion-a-year U.S. beef industry, or the $45 billion poultry business like to use the emotive terms that they are fighting "industrial terrorism".

Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, denounced passage of the bill. "Not only could this Ag-Gag bill perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply. This bill is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in food production."

The Iowa Legislature has became the first to approve a bill making it a crime to surreptitiously get into a farming operation with the intention of documenting animal abuse. Violating these laws would result in misdemeanor charges punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,875. Iowa raises 28 percent of all U.S. pork.

Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the legislation will have a chilling effect on activists and whistleblowers. The law does not distinguish between the two, he said. “A person has to presume that if they report anything, they could be charged with a crime in Iowa. For a lot of people, that’s the end of the story right there.”

Montana, North Dakota and Kansas have already criminalized undercover photography or video inside animal farms. Similar laws are being considered in other states, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Nebraska, Indiana and Minnesota.

"We do undercover investigations to open up the doors, to shine a spotlight on a hidden world," Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing explains "Clearly, with these laws, the industry is trying to prevent people from seeing the realities. When they see them, they are shocked that animals are allowed to be treated this way."

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