Two more states are considering bills that would prevent whistleblowers from exposing cruel or unsafe practices in factory farms, joining five other states with similar “ag gag” bills. If passed, the pending legislation in Tennessee and California would require that evidence of animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement authorities within 24 to 48 hours.
Such bills are touted — and, in some cases, sponsored — by agriculture industry officials as a lawful attempt to stop animal cruelty in farming operations. But they actually undermine advocates’ work to develop animal cruelty or food safety cases against the agricultural industry.
And it turns out the real basis for the bills has its origins in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank that has been behind such legislative pushes as “stand your ground” gun laws, voter ID laws and laws mandating states teach climate change denial in schools. Several of the lawmakers who are pushing ag gag laws have agriculture industry ties and ties to ALEC — nearly one in four Iowa lawmakers who voted for Iowa’s ag gag law, for example, are members of ALEC.
In 2002, ALEC introduced a piece of mock legislation titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which labels people who interfere with any animal operations “terrorists” and made it illegal for anyone to enter “an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.” ALEC began pushing the legislation in 2004, and several of the bills currently being considered borrow language from AETA — Indiana’s bill aims to keep farming operations “free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons,” for instance. And ALEC continues to support these bills, as an ALEC spokesman told the AP:
“At the end of the day it’s about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy,” said spokesman Bill Meierling. “You wouldn’t want me coming into your home with a hidden camera.”
In fact, these proposed laws aren’t about personal property or privacy rights: they’re about consumers’ rights to know where their food comes from versus the agriculture industry’s desire to protect itself from negative press. Undercover videos have played a key role in exposing cruelty in some of the nation’s most well-known agriculture companies, and videos of sows crammed in gestation crates helped garner enough public outcry that McDonald’s announced it would phase-out gestation crates from its supply chain. But ag gag laws that require videos and photos to be immediately turned over to law enforcement, instead of delivered to the press, makes it doubtful that the public — the people who are consuming the meat, eggs and milk from these factory farms — will ever see them.
Six states already have ag gag laws on the books, and these laws have led to a chilling effect on advocacy groups’ investigations. If these new bills are passed, they would further close off the agriculture industry from the public eye — and we’ll have ALEC to partially thank for that.