In 2011, the push for bills to prohibit undercover videos of factory farms for the purpose of exposing animal abuse resurfaced after 11 years. The first signing of a similar bill occurred in 1990 by three states: Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota. These “ag-gag” laws all seek to criminalize the making of undercover videos, photographs and sound recordings, although they differed in terms of penalties and which other activities were also prohibited. Since then, Iowa was the first state to approve of a new batch of ag-gag laws, followed by Missouri and Utah.
What is even more frustrating is that since the country is unable to unify on one bill that not only turns attention to prevent animal abuse, but also one that protects the rights ensured to us through the first amendment. Due to this, laws have splintered across the country and each state’s proposed or accepted bill is different than the next. Just in 2013, 10 states have introduced ag-gag bills: Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Vermont.
Undercover photos and videos have been used extensively by the animal protection movement to expose farming cruelty. These bills are acting as a reaction to the bad publicity that erupts whenever a new undercover video is released. Simply by approving these laws, it is obvious to me that animal agriculture does have something to hide and they are penny pushing to get pro-rights and equality organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Mercy for Animals (MFA), out of their hair.
When lawmakers and agricultural businesses focus on turning the law against those trying to expose animal abuse as opposed to ending the actual abuse, I can’t help but think this is a messed up world in which we live. These bills also block those who wish to focus on food-safety issues, poor working conditions, and the freedom of speech and press, because they are essentially making it a crime to investigate any factory farm. Proponents of the bills claim that they are necessary to protect agricultural interests and operate under the belief that if animal cruelty or illegal activities are taking place at a facility, than employees can notify authorities.
However, this is a common argument put forth by factory farms because they know the legal system’s adherence to strict procedures, like needed warrants and getting warrants approved, will allow the wrongdoers the time to cover their tracks and prevent exposure.
Matt Rice of MFA points out, “Legislation should focus on strengthening animal cruelty laws, not prosecuting those who blow the whistle on animal abuse . . . If producers truly cared about animal welfare, they would offer incentives to whistleblowers, install cameras at these facilities to expose and prevent animal abuse, and they would work to strengthen animal abuse laws to prevent animals from needless suffering.”
Needless to say, silencing those who wish to expose the atrocities that exist in these facilities and in other places, is not something that is new to our society, but it is something that needs to stop. Do I think that the signing of these bills will result in the absolute cessation of what may be considered animal rights vigilantes’ methods? No. I think that it will require more creative methods from those who investigate in order to slip through the harshness of the bills in order to continue with the fight of equality for animals. Sometimes the best outcomes are a result of the apathetic attitudes towards what the government is doing; when they slip up and pass bills like the ag-gag bills, hopefully the public will be shocked into action. Optimistically, this can be seen as a mere deterrence and it could be what we need to rally more public assertion against factory farms and their treatment of animals, their workers, and the overall environment of these workplaces.