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Animal rights supporters hold up signs at a pork expo protest in June 2012. (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

Utah's 'Ag-Gag' Law May Have Found First Legal Targets

Animal rights group vows to challenge 'shameful,' 'unconstitutional' law barring factory farm investigations

Nadia Prupis

Four animal rights activists from California are likely to be the first ever defendants charged under Utah's so-called "ag gag" law, which prohibits undercover investigations and recordings of animals in factory farms.

Robert Penney, Sarah Jane Hardt, Harold Weiss, and Bryan Monell were charged in late September 2014 in Utah's Iron County court for agricultural operation interference—the "ag gag" law—and criminal trespassing on agricultural land.

The activists, who are associated with the Farm Animals Rights Movement, told the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday that they had planned to document the journey of a truckload of pigs from Utah's Circle Four farm in Milford to a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles—which is legal even under the agricultural operation interference law.

"The purpose of our trip was to photograph the farm legally," Sarah Jane Hardt said, "and to follow and track the pigs on their journey back. It’s about a nine-hour journey."

Attorney T. Matthew Phillips, who is representing all four defendants, reiterated that the plan was to document the "trail of tears" between the farm and the slaughterhouse. The activists did not trespass onto the farm, but rather took photographs from the side of the road outside of the property, Phillips said.

Local authorities detained the group without arrest. After five hours, they were given citations, Hardt said. "We didn’t violate the law in any way," she told the Tribune.

Animal rights advocates charge that the law not only punishes whistleblowers, it shields the abusive corporate agriculture industry. PETA Director of Litigation Matthew Strugar told Common Dreams, "It's shameful that in a once-free country, 'ag-gag' legislation has been introduced to benefit industries at the expense of animals and consumers."

According to Phillips, the law is unconstitutional. "[I]t targets only the would-be whistleblowers and benefits only the special interests."

Strugar echoed that point, adding, "Legislators should instead be passing laws to require cameras on all factory farms and in all slaughterhouses and to catch animal abusers, such as those who have been caught in undercover investigations—including sadistic workers who kicked pigs in the head or spray-painted them in the nostrils, stomped on and threw chickens and turkeys like footballs, smashed piglets' heads against concrete floors, and beat and sexually assaulted pigs with steel gate rods and hard plastic herding canes."

"Once again, 'ag-gag' laws prove only that factory farms and slaughterhouses have something to hide," Strugar said.

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