One of the worst things about modern America are ag-gag laws, passed in many states over the past decade to keep undercover animal rights reporters from finding out and publicizing the abuse to animals that take place in factory feeding operations. I talked about these a good bit in Out of Sight. If it becomes a crime to take undercover footage in these operations, why not every place of employment. A judge has recently struck Iowa’s law down. Iowa’s agribusiness operators are outraged but this actually is the only reasonable and decent decision:
This week’s ruling by a federal judge striking down Iowa’s “ag-gag” law, which essentially bans undercover activity in agriculture, may cause angst in the agriculture community, but it also presents an opportunity.
The use of undercover video investigations is a strategy employed by animal welfare groups to bring public attention to their cause and influence farm and food company animal-care policies. The videos often show a farm worker appearing to commit animal abuse or mistreatment. Sometimes they are legitimate and sometimes not. Either way, how farmers and food companies react to them has evolved over time.
Ag-gag laws build a legal barrier of sorts around farms. Unfortunately, these laws also send a message that farmers have something to hide. That’s quite the opposite of transparency. Research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) clearly shows that consumers want and expect transparency when it comes to food production. And they deserve it.
The agriculture community’s support of ag-gag laws creates the appearance of inconsistency. Farm groups increasingly recognize the need for transparency and often publicly assure consumers that production practices on today’s farms are humane and the people responsible for animal care are ethically committed to doing the right thing. I believe that to be overwhelmingly true. Yet, when groups also support laws that create a barrier around farms, it leaves consumers scratching their heads.
Those who commit animal abuse on farms should be held accountable. And, those who witness animal abuse and continue to record it instead of stopping it should, too. The public would be outraged if someone recorded willful elder or child abuse and chose not to stop it. We should expect the same when it comes to abuse of animals.
But using state laws to barricade the barn door doesn’t build public trust.
The only reason to have an ag-gag bill is to cover up just how awful animal operations are. Given the power of consumers, this should be unacceptable to us. You can have a large-scale industrial meat operation and basic standards of humanity. But here’s the thing–at the root of this is that the farmers pay workers next to nothing and so the workers treat the animals like garbage. This all goes back to the exploitative labor arrangements at the center of the farm economy. If you treat workers better and incentivize treating animals with dignity, you can make it happen. But that goes against the entire structure of agribusiness, so they’d just rather throw some vegetarian hippies in prison.