The U.N. has declared 2013 to be the Year of Quinoa. But it’s also shaping up to be the Year of Ag Gag, those bills that make it illegal to covertly investigate factory farms for animal and ecological abuse. From Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary:
In 2011, the meat industry backed laws in four states to make taking photos or videos on farms and slaughterhouses illegal. In 2012, the industry pushed similar laws in 10 states. This year, we expect even more.
In 2011 and 2012, Iowa, Utah, and Missouri all enacted some version of an anti-whistleblower ag-gag law, while similar proposals were struck down in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, and Tennessee.
This year, more such laws are proposed in Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.
Ag-gag laws are hardly the first attempt to keep the prying eyes of the public — activists, journalists, eaters all — away from the truths about animals raised en masse for food. Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota passed less restrictive versions of these laws back in the early ’90s, when the Animal Liberation Front was running around in balaclavas, being surprisingly organized and effective at freeing monkeys and minks and smashing up butcher shops. In 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, boosting penalties for these crimes.
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, passed in 2006, went even further — like, way way further — making it illegal to “intentionally damage” a company’s physical property or its potential profits, even by nonviolent civil disobedience. Under the AETA, activists have been arrested and held for running websites and peacefully protesting animal testing.
But the corporate- and Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council wanted to crack down even further. In 2003 it proposed model legislation that would make it illegal 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.” Today’s ag-gag bills are direct descendants of that far-reaching legislation. From Alternet:
Ag-Gag laws passed 20 years ago were focused more on deterring people from destroying property, or from either stealing animals or setting them free. Today’s ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose horrific acts of animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of those exposes have resulted from undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make illegal.
The three state bills proposed so far this year would require people with knowledge of animal abuse to promptly report it to officials. But if you just upload those photos and video and don’t report them to the government within a day or two, you’ll be breaking the law. Friedrich again:
It’s certainly possible that animal-friendly legislators are supporting [these kinds of bills] out of concern for animals, but of course undercover investigations, whether of a drug ring or organized crime syndicate or factory farm, require that the investigator document the full extent of the illegal activity. If the FBI or CIA stopped an investigation at the first sign of criminal activity, wrong-doers would be inadequately punished, if they were punished at all, because the full extent of the criminal behavior would not be known. Similarly, if an investigator witnesses illegal abuse of animals and immediately turns in that evidence without thorough documentation, the plant may receive a slap on the wrist (at best), the investigator leaves the plant, and business-as-usual continues.
The more of these laws that pass, the more free speech is chilled, and the less likely we are to see the uncovering of abuses. (Activists, you are fucking badass, but I know you also don’t want to go to jail.)
So is 2013 the Year of Ag Gag? Or is that actually every year now?