Sit back and relax because this is a long one. There are too many factors in this issue and I’ve barely scratched the surface!
Just recently my attention was brought to a lawsuit simmering in Utah challenging the constitutionality of the State’s “Agricultural Operation Interference” law. Dubbed as the Ag Gag Law in essence it’s a measure to stop anyone from recording abuses in the food animal industry. Some other states have passed or are considering similar laws.
Utah has become the standing ground of challenge to these types of laws because the first person ever arrested under the law, Amy Meyer, was charged for filming a Utah slaughterhouse. She has also joined the lawsuit. She shot footage of a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside the slaughterhouse. Charges were later dropped because Meyer’s Feb. 8 video showed that she recorded the operation from a public street. Other than obvious animal abusive actions revealed, the video is quite entertaining in the sense of the company and authorities attempting to remove Amy.
At the crux of the issue are questions about the necessity and legality of Ag Gag laws. Proponents of these laws claim concerns of biosecurity and food safety presented by activists walking into ag facilities.
Emily Meredith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry group that supports farm protection laws, doesn’t buy the free-speech argument. “I don’t quite understand—and the industry doesn’t understand—how a lot of the laws now are requiring abuse to be reported, how those would be constitutionally suspect or violative of free speech when they’re mandating that you speak up,” she says, referencing the mandatory reporting of animal abuse now required in some states.
Take note that this group reportedly supports “farm protection laws” however the spokesperson goes on to say … industry doesn’t understand….. – The only farms that “industry” owns is company owned farms and that is a very small number of farms. Companies are hiding behind the pretense of farms!
In addition to the concerns about biosecurity and food safety posed by activists walking onto ag facilities, Meredith says she repeatedly referenced the right of farm owners to protect themselves from being targeted by activists and undercover journalists. “Just like you wouldn’t let some stranger from the street to walk in your front door, our farmers and ranchers have the same constitutionally protected rights to be free from intrusion and to protect their private property,” she says, “So I think that those are issues that really come to the forefront in this type of discussion.” What farm owners is she speaking about?
Since I wasn’t up to speed about all of the ins and outs of these laws I decided to wait a few days to watch a segment on the National Geographic channel about Ag Gag Laws before forming a conclusive opinion. It aired, July 31, 2012, and I watched. Most of the footage shown I had seen before or scenes similar. I shouldn’t have been shocked but it was another one of those moments in my life where I just shook my head and wondered how anyone could defend the appalling scenes.
I came away from the show with mixed emotions and it has taken me almost 2 weeks to sort through what I saw and heard. There are many differing views to be considered and to get to the bottom of what is driving the Ag Gag Laws.
Most importantly, I, by no stretch of the imagination, support, promote, or condone violent actions towards anyone or anything no matter which side of the issue one might be on. Those who resort to such actions are using terroristic activities and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Period!
Passionate agendas are clear and everyone has a right to their beliefs. However, attempting to force those beliefs on others isn’t doing anything except detracting from what one might be attempting to accomplish. The label of activist is slapped on such actions immediately. I, for one, was turned off by this.
Filming while trespassing is already illegal and laws are in place to enforce this. The question is, are you trespassing if you have permission to be on the premises? Obviously not, since no prosecution of undercover filming has occurred. Thus Big Ag wants laws to stop undercover work which exposes abusive practices.
The real issue of cruel and inhumane animal abuse, which obviously does occur, is lost in all of the squabbling over laws. There is no excuse for the animal cruelty exposed no matter how it is acquired. Big Ag argues the point that American consumers are confused about animal agriculture because of the many undercover filming’s of abuse. There’s no confusion to be had when viewing cases that have been well documented and filmed. It can’t be said that these abuses don’t occur.
What Big Ag should be saying is that they will stop the abuses, and really do it, not talk about how undercover filming has hit them in the pocketbook. I think that says it all and answers any questions about Ag Gag Laws!
As a farmer, I know that these abuses don’t occur on every farm. Farmer’s that I know, care for their animals. It’s as simple as that!
On the other hand, in the industrial setting of raising animals for a corporation, those who are raising or slaughtering are forced into becoming something other than what they would wish to be. I’m not excusing such actions; however, I do understand the motivating factor behind those actions. Industrial agriculture is all about mass production of animals as rapidly as possible no matter the consequences. Those raising and slaughtering these animals are just a cog in the wheel of corporate ag and have a whip snapping over their heads to produce rapidly, so to speak.
Corporate Ag has covered their butts by writing company policies, – nod, nod, wink wink – that cover animal abuses. In reality those who are supposed to meet company demands, farmers and workers, are continually forced to do the opposite by meeting company goals of production. While I was in the crazy mixed up world of industrial ag, I heard many times from company people, “it’s company policy” whatever “it” was pertaining to in the conversation at the time. At no time in 23 years did I receive the written handbook of the company’s policy. The only reason, that I could figure, was that company policy changed in the blink of an eye to suit the company needs at the time.
The Nat Geo show’s focus was about Ag Gag Laws however many underlying issues are tied up in these laws. As I mentioned earlier trespassing is already illegal. As a farmer I’ve on very few occasions had to deal with trespassers. Asking the trespasser(s) to leave the property proved most effective and on those even fewer occasions other remedies were necessary. The bottom line is the trespassers were removed. It’s not a secret that for anyone to simply walk onto a farm is doing so at their own risk. The Ag Gag Laws aren’t for the purpose of protecting farmers and ranchers, they, are able to do that on their own!
I don’t know of any who’ve simply walked into a slaughter facility and if they have I’m sure that trespassing laws have taken care of removing them. Secondly, most corporate owned facilities have security. Industry would have us believe that there are masses out there storming the castle and some legislators believe it. They’ve fallen for the Chicken Little theme of the sky is falling! Or, have they?
Why would industry need more laws? In my humble opinion, it’s really quite simple. These laws are for the purpose of shutting people up! If the ugly truth of corporate run agriculture can be hidden from the public, consumers won’t be confused and pocketbooks won’t be hit. This is censorship at its best and if allowed, to protect corporate run agriculture, what will be next? We will be legally sliding down a slippery slope!
I don’t believe that those who wrote our Constitution had it in their minds for law to decide what people could or could not say unless, of course, it was libelous or slanderous. In fact, freedoms for people in this country were at the heart of the writing. Unless corporate agribusiness can prove libel or slander of what is exposed, no other favoritism’s or special laws should be provided as protection. If they are being hit in the pocketbook because of exposure – maybe they should stop what they are doing!