Do you believe you have the right to know details about where your food comes from? If so, get to know more about a new law that keeps consumers in the dark in order to honour the privacy rights of food producers.

What are ag-gag laws?

Coined by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, ag-gag laws refers to any bill that attempts to criminalize whistleblowers for informing the public about factory farm practices. According to Bittman, these bills “seek to punish not only photographers and videographers but those who distribute their work, which means organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals.”

Who is trying to pass ag-gag laws?

Supporters of ag-gag laws believe that such bills strengthen private property rights, protecting business owners from intruders of their workplace, a nonpublic area, from rivals who seek to steal information or expose their practices.

Some supporters, including the board of directors for the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America” act, go further with their accusations, calling whistleblower investigations on factory farms an act of terrorism. According to Bill Moyers, Managing Editor of Huffington Post Green, “Just two Septembers after the atrocious attacks that killed three thousand Americans, and as we were still trying to figure out how to cope with terrorism, ALEC compared “extreme animal rights and environmental militants” to “terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.””

Who is attempting to outlaw ag-gag bills?

With data suggesting that 99 percent of farm animals in the United States are raised in factory farms, it is no wonder that animal rights activists and organizations have been attempting to explore the practices involved in meat production. However, since most producers of animal products do not typically disclose information about their practices, or welcome outsiders in to observe what goes on in their facilities,  information relating to some of the largest meat producers remains private.

The widespread belief that the reality behind meat production should be known to consumers has inspired whistleblowers to go undercover and reveal factory farming practices, in order to make them known.

Ag-gag laws challenge this behaviour by making it illegal to investigates factory farms, and thus impossible for these facts to become public knowledge. A problematic reality since the truth could potentially prevent conumers from making informed decisions related to their health. In fact, Wired magazine claimed that, since unethical, subpar environments often encourage unsanitary conditions, “ag gag laws could make America sick.”

“Ag gag laws could make America sick.”

Critics, like Matt Dominguez of the HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign, believe that the attempt by the meat industry to hide their practices only serves to prove that their behaviour is a problem worth concealing. “The industry’s response is not to clean up the bad behavior, but rather to make investigations illegal. We show what they’re desperate to hide from the American public.”

Others believe that by limiting the ability for citizens to speak openly and freely about these unethical practices, ag-gag bills challenge free speech in an open and democratic society. Furthermore, ag-gag bills deter employees from reporting illegal activities that affect the public. For this reason, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill.

“While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity.”

Celebs Who Have Spoken Out

In May, Martha Stewart and Kesha took to twitter to speak out against North Carolina’s House Bill 405, The Property Protection Act, which allows business owners to sue employees who conduct undercover investigations on their property. Despite efforts from critics of the bill, who refer to it as an ag-gag bill since it criminalizes undercover and whistleblowing activity, the bill was passed on June 3.

Other celebrity spokespersons include Tony Kanal and Moby. The vegan celebrities partnered with Mercy for Animals’ #NoAgGag campaign, sealing their mouths for a photo shoot, in order to support the idea that ag-gag laws limit free speech.

So…What Can You Do?

Image via noaggag.com
Image via noaggag.com

While the recent approval of Bill 405 in North Carolina was bad news for anti ag-gag activists, their successes outweigh their defeats. While only five states have ag-gag laws passes, 19 states have defeated them. With groups such as Mercy For Animals continuing undercover investigations across the United States and in Canada, it is likely that bills such as North Carolina’s Bill 405 and other Ag-gag laws will continue to emerge in states and provinces across North America.

Speak out by sharing information about the acts of animal cruelty involved in many factory farms, and the ag-gag laws that attempt to conceal them.

Explore the benefits of a vegan diet, or shop responsibly. Portland butcher Camas Davis found a balance between veganism and factory farming that works for her. She shares her knowledge about responsible and cruelty-free meat production through her butchery school, the Portland Meat Collective.

Post Eighty

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