Taking Ag Gag to Court

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with PETA, has filed the nation’s first lawsuit against ag gag legislation, taking Utah to court for infringing on the free speech rights of activists, investigators, and journalists by criminalizing undercover investigations at factory farms. Utah’s ag gag law aims to prevent animal advocates and law enforcement from collecting evidence of egregious and illegal abuse of animals on factory farms.

Ag Gag & Animal Cruelty

Factory farms want to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public, but the public deserves the truth about how the billions of animals suffering on industrial farms are treated and whether or not laws are being broken that jeopardize food safety, workers’ rights, and environmental standards.

Shocking exposés from undercover investigations have revealed severe animal abuse on factory farms, like animals beaten, kicked, maimed, and thrown by workers. Industrial agriculture has also brought us the unsavory likes of ammonia and pink slime in hamburgers, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” chickens abandoned by the thousands to starve to death, pregnant and nursing pigs held in gestation crates that never allow them to turn around, and sick and downed cows dragged on the ground to become lunchmeat. Corporate agriculture’s massive profit ratio and proven inclination to hide in a dark world of secrecy makes journalistic and investigative freedom imperative to the well-being of animals across the nation—and to our own health and safety.

Journalistic Integrity

cow_chinoUtah’s ag gag law criminalizes free speech. That is why the Animal Legal Defense Fund is joining with journalists Will Potter and Jesse Fruhwirth; Daniel Hauff, an undercover investigations consultant specializing in factory farms; the political journal CounterPunch; and professor James McWilliams, as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  “There’s a long history of investigative journalism in this country based on exactly the type of research and whistleblowing that these laws criminalize,” Will Potter explains. “Ag gag laws make it impossible to report stories that are vitally important to the public.”

Utah activist Amy Meyer is also a plaintiff in the case. In February, Amy made headlines by videotaping the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper, Utah from the roadside. Amy was charged under Utah’s ag gag law—making her the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under an ag gag law–although the charges were dropped after public outcry.

Ag gag laws aim to control our behavior by instilling fear of prosecution. This is legally known as the “chilling effect” because it intimidates people from acting and gathering information—even in legally-protected ways.  Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recently vetoed a proposed ag gag law after the Tennessee Attorney General called the bill “constitutionally suspect.” Erwin Chemerinksy, a professor and dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading scholar of U.S. constitutional law, has weighed in in support of the lawsuit, explaining, “The Utah law is very much directed at restricting speech, and especially particular messages.  This is exactly what the First Amendment prohibits.”

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