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Ag-Gag

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One of the most pernicious right-wing goals, and I know the competition for this title is really stiff, are the so-called ag-gag bills agribusiness are pushing in the states. These bills would make it illegal to record evidence of what happens inside food factories, such as slaughterhouses. Those filming or recording audio or having this material and not turning it over to the police could be punished with fines or even prison time.

I can’t say how pernicious this is. It is a response to animal rights activists getting jobs in slaughterhouses and then secretly recording what is going on in order to publicize how horrible the animals are treated. They have recorded animals being beaten, sexually abused, thrown around, and otherwise tortured. Slaughterhouses and factory farms also treat workers poorly. They are underpaid, understaffed, and overworked. It’s hardly surprising then that they would take this out on the poor animals. If these bills become law, what is the rationale then for being allowed to record any conditions going on inside of any factory. In other words, this is central to my thesis in Out of Sight. If companies can keep all knowledge of working conditions out of the public’s eye by making such knowledge a crime, they can oppress workers all the more. That is their open goal. There’s no good reason for these laws to stay just within agribusiness. It’s quite scary.

Mostly, these laws have been defeated. But not everywhere and the fight continues. One of these laws passed in Idaho. But a federal judge struck it down last year. Now activists are hoping to build on this decision to go after a similar law passed in what has recently become the sewer of American politics, North Carolina:

There’s been a particularly strong amount of venom for the North Carolina law, which required an override of a gubernatorial veto to get on the books. The fears come from the law’s breadth. It outlaws any employee from recording in a “non-public” area of any workplace, not just a farm. If the employee disseminates any collected footage, that’d be considered a violation of loyalty, and the employee could be sued for civil damages.

Many animal rights activists seek employment at the farms and ranches they investigate to gain access.

North Carolina’s law went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and the coalition didn’t wait long to challenge it. Humane Society of the U.S. lobbyist Matthew Dominguez predicted the move.

Defeating this is a very, very important issue. The courts so far have been favorable. Were this to make it to the Supreme Court, given the current makeup, I don’t really feel all that confident in the result.

Speaking of Out of Sight, remember that Shakezula is moderating a discussion of the first two chapters of the book with me on January 26 at 2 p.m. Read the book and ask me some questions!!!

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  • joe from Lowell

    Mostly, these laws have been defeated.

    I really thought there would be a backlash to this type of legal abuse when the beef producers sued Oprah for defamation. Maybe this time!

    • Iowa has one of these laws. Would be nice if someone asked about it during the primaries.

      • rea

        Indeed, judging by the mortar, the picture is of a protest at the Iowa Capitol

  • Donalbain

    How do the scumbags actually justify these laws? Surely they don’t stand up in the legislatures and say that they just want to let companies get away with animal abuse.. they must have some sort of spin for this.. what is that?

    • You’d be surprised. Basically, the argument is that the agricultural industry needs financial protection from whistleblowers and that the footage is sensational and doesn’t truly represent the conditions in the factories. This is ALEC all the way. They barely bother justifying it.

      • Manny Kant

        State legislatures get so little media attention, I can’t imagine there’s much pressure ever to justify much of anything.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      basically the spin is that the rights/welfare videos are the equivalent of the anti Planned Parenthood videos

      ag gag laws are one of many reasons the Farm Bureau is at least as terrible as the NRA

      • Bitter Scribe

        I can’t imagine it being spun that way, since the people who favor ag-gag laws are probably in large part the same people who think that deceptively edited PP videos shot under false pretenses are just fine and dandy.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          people who favor ag-gag laws believe that animal rights/welfare activists and/or vegetarians are every bit as crazy, ruthless and wrong as you or I believe anti-abortion freaks are. So all they have to hear is a line about how “these people get access under false pretenses to catch us at our worst and then present that to the world as how we do business every day”

          not saying they’re right, just that it shouldn’t be a big mystery how the laws get through legislatures

          • Origami Isopod

            A lot of ARAs are crazy, IMO. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong on the ag-gag issue. Seriously flawed people can still do things that are beneficial to society.

    • Origami Isopod

      How do the scumbags actually justify these laws?

      “Gawrd gave us dominion over the animals!”

      I mean, this demographic has no small overlap with the To Train Up a Child demographic.

  • Rob in CT

    Stuff like this really gives away the game.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Defeating this is a very, very important issue. The courts so far have been favorable. Were this to make it to the Supreme Court, given the current makeup, I don’t really feel all that confident in the result.

    I think you’ll find a free speech majority on the Court. Roberts did write that where there’s a tie with the First Amendment, the First Amendment wins.

    If you can find a 8-1 majority to support the legalization of sexual fetish animal cruelty videos then you can find a majority to support overturning ag-gag laws. In fact Roberts wrote on that case: “The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

    • Except that John Roberts’ overriding principle is not free speech, it’s serving corporations.

      • ThrottleJockey

        You can hemorrhage 3 votes and still win, so its not so much who does Roberts serve, its how does Kennedy vote, right?

        It would be a hard thing in light of this country’s history of 1st Amendment jurisprudence for agriculture to be the. one. area. where its legal to criminalize journalism.

    • dl

      If I recall, in the dogfighting video case, the government lost basically just “as-applied.”

      Then again remember the Phelps v Snyder (Westboro protest case) 8-1 for the first amendment.

  • DrDick

    Ag-Gag laws, because the last thing Americans need to know is how their food is produced! A lot of the criticism of these laws focuses on the treatment of livestock, but they also shield a variety of other abuses in labor practices, health and safety, and other areas.

    • BigHank53

      Including the lack of sanitation for lettuce and tomato pickers, leading to the primary path for the introduction of e coli to your favorite fast-food meal.

  • kayden

    “Mostly, these laws have been defeated.”

    Great to know. When I first heard about these laws, I was horrified. I cannot imagine a country where you are not free to videotape cruelty — whether against human beings or animals. It’s shocking that Conservatives who are always shouting about free speech and liberty would pass laws which repress the exposing of animal abuse. But I guess this is a way to protect their buddies who run large agricultural endeavors.

    These types of laws should horrify everyone across political parties and anyone who gives a damn about animal welfare.

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