Across the country, lobbyists for the meat and dairy industries have been pressuring legislators to pass laws that punish whistleblowers who expose crimes on agricultural facilities. Kentucky, Tennessee and Colorado are the latest states to reject these “ag-gag” bills aimed at keeping the public in the dark about rampant animal abuse and food safety violations on factory farms.
The push in the Bluegrass State is particularly disturbing, given the circumstances surrounding its introduction. Just a month previous to the ag gag bill’s introduction, an undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States at a pig factory in Owensboro, Ky. Footage from that investigation showed breeding pigs locked in cages so small the animals couldn’t turn around – a gruesome irony considering the name of the business is Iron Maiden Hog Farm—bringing to mind the medieval torture device.
Our investigator also documented piglets who died from a diarrhea-inducing illness being ground up like smoothies and fed back to breeding pigs — a practice prohibited by state law. Sick and injured sows were frequently left without care.
Instead of passing laws to support much needed improvements for better food safety and animal welfare in Kentucky’s pork industry, a handful of legislators tried to sneak an “ag-gag” provision through that would make it a crime to photograph or film animal abuse or other types of unethical or illegal activities at agricultural facilities without the owner’s consent. In order to avoid public debate, the provision was covertly added less than 24 hours before the bill was scheduled for a committee hearing in the state Senate.
The inhumane treatment at Iron Maiden Hog Farm would have never been exposed had the “ag-gag” provision been law. Numerous other investigations throughout the country have revealed similar abuses. For instance, The HSUS's investigation into the mistreatment of animals at a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program led to the largest meat recall in the nation's history. Had there been an ag-gag restriction, this investigation would have never occurred and children might still be eating potentially tainted meat.
The vast majority of ag-gag bills across the country have been defeated thanks to an outcry from free speech advocates, animal welfare groups, and thousands of people from across the political spectrum. In 2013, 15 of these anti-whistleblower bills were introduced. All were stopped. This year, all but one of these dangerous bills have been defeated.
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Despite the danger these bills pose, there’s a silver lining to the battle against ag-gag bills: the discussion about this legislation gives animal advocates and other public interest groups an opportunity to highlight what Big Ag is so desperate to hide – inhumane agricultural practices and behavior that threatens the safety of our food.
World-renowned animal science expert, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., of Colorado State University, states that ag-gag bills are “the stupidest thing that ag ever did." And a National Pork Producers Council policy representative said, “[w]e did a study of coverage of 'ag-gag' laws that found that 99 percent of the stories about it were negative.”
Kentuckians should feel proud for halting the meat industry’s appalling attempt to punish whistleblowers. Hopefully, the industry’s lobbyists will learn their lesson: Americans won’t tolerate animal cruelty, and refuse to be kept in the dark about how their food is produced.
As we celebrate the demise of ag-gag bills in states like Kentucky, it’s important to keep in mind all the work that remains in our effort to fix our food system. Work to pass laws that will ban the worst factory farm abuses is unfolding across the country and needs the support of anyone who opposes inhumane treatment of animals.
There are plenty of other ways to help animals on farms, too. The Humane Society of the United States advocates compassionate eating – or the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
With each new investigation into the cruel but standard practices in the meat industry, Americans are grow increasingly concerned about how their food is produced. Ag-gag bills should join these inhumane factory farming practices on the pages of our history books, not in our legislative halls of debate.