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Why Ag-Gag Bills Exist

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Above: Pig waste lagoon

While Out of Sight is primarily about international production and how the global race to the bottom protects companies from accountability for their sourcing practices because consumers don’t see them, I have a chapter on food that makes the point that a lot of agriculture can’t leave the U.S. for a variety of reasons, including that some crops only grow in certain places, the cost of shipping meat around the world, freshness issues, etc. But agribusiness still tries to conceal the costs of their production. The most heavy-handed way they have tried to do this in recent years is through ag-gag bills that make it a crime to record the treatment of animals in factory farms, which has been a method animal rights activists have used to publicize the horrors of animal treatment. It’s an extremely dangerous precedent because if agribusiness can make it a crime to have evidence of what happens in their facilities, why can’t every employer do the same?

Anyway, as you might guess, the leaders behind these efforts are not nice people. One is Andy Holt, a farmer and representative in the Tennessee legislature who sponsored that state’s failed attempt to pass an ag-gag bill, a bill which I am sure will be reintroduced in some form. Why would he support such a bill? To protect himself from his own bad behavior.

Tennessee representative Andy Holt, former hog farmer and sponsor of the state’s failed ag-gag bill, created quite a stink when he dumped 800,000 gallons of pig manure into the streams and fields surrounding his hog farm. Holt’s lagoons were apparently overflowing with waste and Holt’s response was simply to dump the waste in the waters and lands nearby, with no regard for the environment or the law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently sent a letter to Holt indicating that absent good cause it would take formal civil enforcement action against him. According to a Memphis news source, Tennessee state officials were considering taking action against Holt at the time this happened, but were “discouraged by upper management” from doing so.

Shocking that the state would fail to prosecute one of their own…. It’s examples just like this why corporations prefer state-level regulation to federal. The states are just easier to buy off and control.

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