If you’re not aware that ag-gag laws exist, you don’t realize what a threat they are to our rights as human beings as well as to animal rights. These laws appropriate the concept of “security” for businesses with aplomb.
Animal rights activists already face a ton of hurdles in their quest to protect our animal friends. When the government actively works against them, more animals suffer and fewer criminals can be brought to justice.
But what are ag-gag laws? Why do they exist? And how can we continue to fight against animal cruelty?
Everyone Wants Animals to Be Treated Kindly, Right? Not Exactly
Most of us assume that our fellow humans don’t wish ill on the animals who share the planet with us. That’s a pretty naive viewpoint, though, when we consider that about 25 million farmed animals are slaughtered each day. And that’s just in the United States.
They aren’t just slaughtered, though. They’re mistreated from birth, often beaten, clubbed, kicked, and otherwise made to suffer merely for human enjoyment.
The footage in the video above was captured in Wyoming. It’s tough to watch, but it’s indicative of how animals are treated on factory farms. Ag-gag laws threaten the ability of animal rights activists to obtain and share footage like that.
Ag-Gag Laws: The Laws Created to Allow Animal Abuse
In a nutshell, ag-gag laws are laws created to prevent people from filming or photographing what goes on behind the scenes at factory farms without the owner’s consent. The laws are supposedly designed to protect farmers and their trade secrets, but their impact is far more nefarious.
Ag-gag laws effectively shield factory farmers from facing punishment when they abuse animals on their properties. Since no farmer would willingly grant permission to have his or her operation filmed for whistleblowing purposes, no investigations can take place without someone breaking the law.
Silencing Whistleblowers From Revealing Animal Abuse
Whistleblowing serves as an essential part of a checks-and-balances system that protects workers, business owners, and animals. Ag-gag laws eliminate the potential for effective whistleblowing.
Sure, employees can still tell others what they’ve seen inside a factory farming operation, but they can’t film it for evidence. Consequently, reports of animal abuse and neglect have far less power than they would if filming were permitted.
Farmers Hiding What Goes On Behind Closed Doors
The people involved in factory farming don’t want to lose business. Consequently, they often fully support ag-gag laws as a shield from discovery.
There’s no question that the activities that take place inside factory farms involve animal cruelty as well as threats to human health. But these businesses still thrive. In states where ag-gag laws have passed, farmers have even more protections. They don’t have to worry about an undercover member of The Humane Society seeking employment and recording what goes on behind closed barn doors.
6 Values Threatened By Ag-Gag Laws
In the United States, we pride ourselves on our value system. It’s how we work as a country. However, certain laws — including ag-gag laws — violate the very tenets upon which the country was built.
Several states have proposed or passed ag-gag laws with varying degrees of success. It’s important we do everything possible to stymie the efforts of those who wish to steal our voices.
Essentially, ag-gag laws send the message that animal rights don’t matter, that we don’t really have a right to free speech and that corporate dollars — and the dollars those corporations pay in taxes — matter more than morality.
1. Animal Welfare
Perhaps the worst violation imparted by ag-gag laws involves the animal suffering that results. If factory farmers know that they have license to treat animals however they wish with no fear of reprisals, they have no incentive to stop the rampant abuse that takes place in their operations.
Factory farm workers don’t just neglect the animals in their care, but also actively hurt them. There’s no reason to kick an innocent pig in the face or to throw a calf across a room. Yet it happens.
This doesn’t mean that all factory farm workers are morally bankrupt animal abusers. Sadly, however, such callous human beings exist in plentiful numbers. We’ve seen dozens of videos depicting life on factory farms, and nearly all of them reveal intentional abuse.
Ag-gag laws diminish animal welfare because they hide the abuse from the eyes of the public. That’s not only bad for the animals, but also for people in general.
2. Food Safety
Many of the undercover investigations at factory farms have revealed not only animal abuse but also serious instances of food contamination. Back in 2013, for instance, several major companies — including McDonald’s and Target — stopped buying eggs from supplier Sparboe Farms because a video depicted live chickens housed with their dead brethren as they laid eggs.
At the time, FDA employee and future industry consultant David Acheson said, “This is a warning that there is a systemic problem, not just at one barn or one location.”
Acheson is right, but what happens when these undercover documentaries no longer surface? Contaminated meat, eggs, and dairy products can have massive consequences for human health, especially when it comes to children and the elderly.
3. Environmental Protection
It’s true that manure from livestock can be beneficial for growing crops and other plants. However, factory farms produce manure in such tremendous quantities that it seeps into the groundwater, mixes with urine, and destroys the surrounding soil’s pH balance.
Furthermore, when dead animals are left to decompose in the sun or stored below ground in what amounts to mass graves, the entire area becomes a biohazard zone.
Ag-gag laws give factory farming operations every opportunity to cut corners and destroy the local environment. When given a choice between saving money and protecting the environment, business owners choose their wallets.
4. Free Speech
The Constitution forms the basis for the U.S. values system. By refusing people the right to speak up about matters as serious as the nation’s food supply, we stomp all over the first amendment and throw our animal friends under the proverbial bus.
It’s true that ag-gag laws don’t directly tackle free speech. The laws are intended to stop people from filming while on private property, but the result is a lack of transparency between factory farms and the public.
Because ag-gag laws prevent animal rights activists from obtaining evidence of abusive and unsafe activities in factory farming operations, they simultaneously stop those activists from speaking out with any degree of authority.
Speculation can’t compare to evidence, and when companies are supplying people with food, they need to be carefully watched and held accountable.
5. Marketplace Transparency
People have the right to know where their food comes from and what types of companies they’re supporting with their dollars. While vegans would never consider buying food from factory farms — or any food that contains meat or animal by-products — vegans are in the minority.
In business, we often talk about transparent cultures and accountability, yet ag-gag laws strip away the glass in an industry that has direct consequences for human health. That defies credulity, especially when food recalls often follow serious illnesses and even death as a direct result of food contamination.
6. Workers’ Rights
Whistleblowing is one of the most important rights for workers in the United States and beyond. If workers can’t report their employers’ misdeeds, employees can become targets of abuse, discrimination, and harassment.
Ag-gag laws restrict workers’ rights. They refuse them the ability to document what they see on the job and report on it to the outside world. This flies in the face of what workers have fought for over the last several decades.
States That Have Approved Ag-Gag Laws
Ag-gag legislation has been attempted in 25 states, but only a handful have actually passed them. Still, one state with ag-gag laws is one too many. It’s essential to combat these laws to protect our animal friends and to maintain our rights as human beings.
In Alabama, it’s illegal to gain access to a factory farm or similar agricultural business using false pretenses or to obtain documentation without permission from the owner. Anyone who violates Alabama’s ag-gag legislation faces a $250 fine. The state can classify it as a Class A misdemeanor or a Class C felony.
Back in 2002, an ag-gag law failed to pass in Arkansas, but the state tried again in 2017 and succeeded. House Bill 1665 criminalizes several activities that involve gaining access to a commercial operation, documenting commercial activities, and disclosing such activities to third parties.
Unlike other states that have passed ag-gag laws, North Carolina passed House Bill 405, which gives factory farmers the right to sue an individual for obtaining access to their operations under false pretenses or documenting internal operations. There is no limit to the potential damages.
Another unique state with regard to ag-gag laws is Missouri. In the Show-Me State, any “farm animal professional” who documents abuse against animals must turn over the evidence to law enforcement within 24 hours.
This sounds like a good thing. It’s actually dangerous because it prevents people from recording systemic abuse over days, weeks, or months. Additionally, it reduces the potential for a whistleblower to release the footage to the media, to copy it, or to otherwise disseminate it to the public.
Believe it or not, the ag-gag laws in Kansas date back to 1990. They’re also extremely broad. You can’t enter any animal enterprise with the intention of taking photos or video unless the facility is open to the public. Period.
Although there is currently an initiative to overturn Iowa’s ag-gag laws, they’re still in effect. In this state, you can’t falsify your reasons for seeking employment with a factory farm or similar enterprise without making yourself a criminal.
Some states have buried ag-gag laws in legislation that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with ag-gag. In North Dakota, filming, recording, or photographing an agricultural operation is criminalized in an act focused on animal research facility damage. This type of sleight-of-hand legislation is dangerous on many levels, especially when it comes to people understanding the law.
Although the quick reporting bill didn’t pass in Montana, which would have made reporting animal abuse within 24 hours part of state law, the state still criminalizes entering an animal farming operation by deception.
Ag Gag Laws Are a Danger to Your and Your Family’s Health
With no checks and balances in the meat industry, we’re likely to see more cases of contamination, animal abuse, and animal neglect. Some people might violate the law to obtain evidence of animal cruelty, but that’s not a sustainable mission.
Cutting corners can lead to serious cases of food poisoning, some of which might cause deaths. If factory farmers know that they’re shielded from the public eye, they won’t bother to maintain strict food safety protocols.
Anyone who consumes meat or animal by-products could become an unwilling victim of ag-gag laws. These laws are intended to protect the meat industry so it can continue to flourish, and the factory farmers blame vegetarians and vegans who they say want to destroy their livelihoods.
The reality is that vegans and vegetarians simply want to ensure animal safety as well as food safety. It’s bad enough that these farmers destroy animals for the sole purpose of feeding humans, but to abuse and neglect them while they’re alive is far beyond unconscionable.
Animals Are the Ones That Suffer the Most From Ag-Gag Laws
While food safety is undeniably an important consideration, animals are the real casualty of ag-gag laws. They already have too few protectors, and by criminalizing whistleblowing, they’re put in even more perilous positions.
These animals don’t know kindness, comfort, or control. They’re completely at the mercy of factory farm employees who, in the states mentioned above, don’t have to worry about getting exposed for their despicable crimes.
It’s Time to Do Something About It
We’re all on the same page now. Ag-gag laws are not only unconstitutional but also dangerous for both animals and human beings. But what can we do about them?
It all starts with the legislators. Let the people in your state and local government know that you don’t support ag-gag laws. Pay careful attention to any bill or act based on the agriculture industry so your politicians can’t sneak in language about documenting what goes on at factory farms.
If you live in one of the states that criminalize whistleblowing, campaign to get those bills overturned. The people have to be willing to speak out when they don’t agree with the law and to force politicians to uphold the constitution.
Share the Message With Everyone
You can also help do away with ag-gag laws by telling other people about it. Forward the link to this article to everyone you know so they’re aware of the problem.
Ask 10 of your closest friends whether they’re familiar with ag-gag laws. You’re likely to get 10 blank stares. People can’t do away with unconstitutional laws if they’re not even aware of their existence.
Join The Cause
Those who want to do more to protect the animals who are victimized by anti-whistleblowing ag-gag laws might want to join organizations and groups that fight such legislation. For instance, you might join the local chapter of The Humane Society, ASPCA, PETA, or similar groups.
The more people who rage against ag-gag laws, the more politicians will have to pay attention. Factory farmers need to know that they won’t be shielded forever. We value animal and human rights too much to give them free rein in the slaughterhouses.
Furthermore, we need to carefully examine the evidence already provided by undercover employees. If one person can document numerous instances of abuse at one facility, it’s obvious that this systemic problem is occurring all over the world at an alarming scale.
No sentient creature deserves to be hit, kicked, bludgeoned, poked, cut, or otherwise tormented for human amusement. Similarly, no human should eat contaminated food because a factory farmer wanted to cut corners and save money.
Yet it’s happening every day. We can stop it if we’re committed enough to lend our voices to the cause and to tell our politicians what we want from them. Staying silent is not an option.
What do you think of ag-gag laws? How can we eliminate them from the books?
Sentient Media editorial team.