What Is Ag-Gag Legislation?
Over the past few years, the farm industry and animal-agriculture lobby have been behind the introduction of "ag-gag" bills in more than half of all state legislatures across the country. These dangerous bills are designed to silence whistleblowers revealing animal abuses on industrial farms. Ag-gag type laws have been passed in seven states, criminalizing acts related to investigating the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video and/or audio at a farm.
Many successful animal welfare investigations have revealed severe abuses of animals and raised additional concerns about industrial farms, such as the potential contamination of eggs and meat. Such revelations have led to product recalls, decisions by retailers to drop suppliers, legal prosecutions of employees and hard questions posed to the animal agribusiness industry. That’s why a coalition of more than 70 national groups (spanning public health, environment, workers’ rights, sustainable farming and many other areas of focus) oppose ag-gag legislation.
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It is worth noting that the use of exposés to reveal abuse has a long and storied history in America dating back to journalist Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The Jungle, which uncovered atrocious conditions inside America's meatpacking plants and led directly to the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual formation of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Learn about a few investigations that have occurred recently:
- Tennessee, August 2015 – T&S Farms, Tyson and McDonald’s chicken supplier
- Pennsylvania, June 2015 – Hillandale Farms, Costco egg supplier
- Colorado, May 2015 –Seaboard Foods, Wal-Mart pork supplier
- North Carolina, December 2014 – Craig Watts, Perdue chicken supplier
- Mississippi and Tennessee, November, 2014 – Koch Foods, Chick-fil-A chicken supplier
- Colorado, September 2014 – Leprino Foods, dairy company
- North Carolina, July 2014 – Prince Poultry, Pilgrim’s chicken supplier (The ASPCA provided grant funding for this investigation)
- Kentucky, February 2014 – Iron Maiden Hog Farm, breeding sow farm
- Oklahoma, November, 2013 – West Coast Farms, Tyson pork supplier
"Ag-gag" or "whistleblower suppression" bills take many forms. What they all have in common is they threaten not only to cover up horrific animal abuse and food safety problems, but also other illegal or unethical behavior including environmental and labor violations. Animals deserve to be protected, and the public has a right to know how its food is produced.
Ag-gag laws pose a threat to a wide spectrum of values and issues Americans care about. Social issues potentially impacted by ag-gag laws include, but are not limited to:
Ag-gag laws are a direct threat to animal welfare. We know that animals are often cruelly treated in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Documentation of this treatment not only helps educate the public about farm animal abuse, but also influences industry and government entities to make real changes for farm animals.
Ag-gag laws threaten our food supply: Various exposés of factory farms and slaughterhouses have revealed the extent to which our meat, eggs and milk are mishandled. Mishandling animal products, including mishandling farm animals while they are alive, invites health risks including salmonella, mad cow disease and other potentially fatal illnesses that may be transmitted to consumers.
Control Over Food Choices
Ag-gag laws are a direct threat to marketplace transparency. At a time when Americans are increasingly invested in knowing more about where their food comes from and how it is made, these laws threaten our ability to control what we bring into our homes and the food we put in our bodies. All Americans should have the right to know the basic conditions under which their food is produced.
This legislation often seeks to criminalize the recording of sounds or images in animal facilities, no matter the content. Factory farms, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities are physically and emotionally difficult places to work. Farm investigations have the potential to expose serious worker abuse and other illegal or unethical conduct on the part of employees or supervisors.
Some ag-gag bills seek to criminalize not just recording, but even possessing and distributing images recorded on animal facilities—and some seek to criminalize misrepresenting oneself on job applications (which, while possibly an act warranting termination of employment, should generally not be a crime). These provisions pose serious First Amendment threats.
In the United States, 99% of food animals are raised in factory farms, where large numbers of animals are housed together, generally in close confinement. Huge amounts of waste are generated, the improper storage and disposal of which threatens our soil and water. While state and federal laws require large farms to minimize their environmental damage, farms have been found flagrantly violating these requirements. Undercover investigations offer an effective way to expose such violations.
Ag-gag laws are also troublesome because they do not reflect the public's will. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans favor humane treatment of farm animals. A 2012 poll conducted for ASPCA by Lake Research revealed that 94% of the general American public agrees that "from every step of their lives on a farm—from birth to slaughter—farm animals should be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible." The same poll also revealed that 71% of American adults support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and that 64% oppose making such investigations illegal.
It is important to let our state legislators know that we do not support the passage of ag-gag bills or any other legislation that would allow animal abuse to be covered up. To take action and spread the word, visit aspca.org/OpenTheBarns.