As we look ahead to the future of meat, dairy and egg production, it is important to reflect on why these industries are so desperate to close the factory doors on transparency. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, so The Humane Society of the United States and other groups have cast a bright light on the abuses happening in the dark. But when confronted with damning footage from dozens of investigations, the industry came up with a deplorable response: try to have whistleblowers thrown in jail for speaking out.
You’d think the meat, egg and dairy industries would realize by now their legislative campaign to keep Americans in the dark about the widespread animal abuse in their sectors has officially failed. As I have previously written about on Common Dreams, lobbyists for Big Ag have been jetting around the country the past few years working with a handful of compliant legislators to pass “ag-gag” legislation that would criminalize the documentation of animal cruelty, environmental crimes or other unethical activities in agricultural operations. Yet in virtually every state these efforts have not only been unsuccessful, but have generated enormous scrutiny of industrialized agriculture from consumers, animal advocates and experts. Even former Under Secretary of Agriculture, Richard Raymond, slammed the strategy, saying: “[the industry] needs to stop clamoring for ‘Ag Gag’ laws that seem to shout out that you have something to hide.”
On Monday, the last ag-gag bill of the 2014 legislative session died when Pennsylvania lawmakers refused to move on it. Perhaps in 2015 those clamoring to pass ag-gag will finally realize this is a losing strategy, and making real reforms to protect food safety and animals is the only way to earn back consumer trust.
Fortunately, voters and lawmakers of all political stripes across the country emphatically believe factory farms warrant more scrutiny, not less. Many responsible farmers have also spoken out against this push; after all, the cloud of suspicion that comes with an ag-gag bill casts a shadow on the good guys, too.
The HSUS has led the charge in killing more than 20 ag-gag bills over the past two years. Idaho was the only state to pass an ag-gag bill during that time because legislators caved from the pressures placed on them by the powerful dairy industry, which was determined to slam shut the factory farm door after an investigation exposed employees kicking, beating and sexually abusing cows at the state’s largest producer.
The good news is that some players in the food industry are up to speed. Dozens of businesses, including Costco, Safeway and Compass Group are working with their suppliers and animal welfare experts to begin making meaningful animal welfare improvements. Surely this is a smarter path than continuing to try to dupe consumers. We’ll have to see if the industry holdouts want to fight this tired battle again in 2015. If they do, a large coalition of public interest groups will continue to use the opportunity to air Big Ag’s dirty secret: widespread abuse is running rampant in its facilities.