Animal abuse, food safety violations, and illegal working conditions are rampant on factory farms. In 2011, the corporate agriculture lobby attempted to pass ag gag laws which would have made it illegal to photograph or videotape at agricultural facilities, or to possess or distribute such evidence. In the 2011-2012 legislative session, 10 states introduced ag gag bills, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Utah. In 2013, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming introduced ag gag legislation, and many other state legislatures are poised to do the same. Ag gag bills are already on the books in Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, and Missouri.
The goal of ag gag laws is insidious: to silence whistleblowers and eliminate access to critical evidence of farmed animal and other abuses. What's more, restrictions or prohibitions on these records would decrease the opportunities for food safety violations to be discovered, thereby increasing the risk that consumers could be exposed to and contract illnesses from the consumption of unsafe food products and produce from jurisdictions that pass ag gag legislation.
Factory farms, like other industries, are already fully protected from illegal activities that could detrimentally impact them by trespass, fraud, and other existing criminal and civil laws - despite corporate agriculture's claims to the contrary. Ag gag bills were designed to place restraints on free speech by making it a crime to take photos or video on a factory farm without the written permission of the owner. Under the guise of property rights, ag gag bills are intended to prevent consumers from ever seeing the horrors of animal abuse, contaminated crops, illegal working conditions, and risky food safety practices—the sort that result in massive food safety recalls and all too frequently lead to outbreaks of food-borne illness—that are common practice behind factory farm gates.
ALDF and a broad range of stakeholders have raised concerns about the potentially devastating impacts of these and newer ag gag legislation efforts. Ag gag is a grave concern for everyone from journalists to whistleblowers to animals to mothers concerned about the safety of their children's food.
Ag gag legislation hides animal abuse
Animal protection organizations have repeatedly documented animal abuse at factory farms across the country. The purpose and intent of ag gag legislation is to prevent such investigations and hide abuse from the consuming public. Instead of remedying rampant animal abuse, corporate agriculture is attempting to "kill the messenger" by promoting legislation that turns whistleblowers into criminals.
Ag gag legislation threatens public health and safety
Undercover investigations are often necessary to expose dangerous food safety violations that threaten the health of millions with dangerous diseases and bacteria, such as E. coli. Dangerous conditions videotaped during a recent investigation at a California factory farm—a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program—prompted the recall of 143 million pounds of beef in the largest beef recall in American history.
Ag gag legislation threatens enforcement of environmental laws
Ag gag legislation could prevent workers and citizens from documenting and publicizing violations of environmental laws, removing one of the incentives for facilities to comply with the laws that protect the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. A community member would, for example, be prohibited from taking photographs or video of a farm's open manure storage lagoons discharging into a neighboring creek.
Ag gag legislation harms farm workers and whistleblowers
Legislation that bans recording on farms prevents isolated and often vulnerable workers from documenting and protecting themselves against dangerous conditions, including unsafe work environments, exposure to toxic substances, and intimidation against labor organizing. Agricultural workers often use mobile phone cameras to document abuse, and then use that evidence to defend their rights and improve their working conditions.
Ag gag legislation obstructs law enforcement
Groups like the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the National District Attorneys Association oppose ag gag laws because undercover investigations conducted on factory farms are crucial to law enforcement efforts to prosecute animal cruelty, illegal working conditions, and risky food safety practices.
Ag gag legislation undermines freedom of speech and freedom of the press
At its core, ag gag legislation is intended to stifle the exchange of information and the expression of ideas by keeping the public ill-informed about agribusiness practices. There is an ongoing national conversation about the treatment of animals raised as food, the safety of crops, and the conditions in which farm laborers work. Ag gag is the corporate agriculture lobby's attempt to silence media scrutiny.