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Gag Order

With "ag gag" bills, Big Ag seeks to stifle reform

by Karen E. Lange

Inside windowless barns, sows chewed the bars of their gestation crates, confined so tightly that they couldn’t even turn around. Brown puddles had formed from a diarrhea outbreak. And piles of dead piglets were being gutted—so that their intestines could be fed to their mothers.

These images would have remained hidden there in Owensboro, Kentucky, if two HSUS undercover investigators hadn’t videotaped the dark reality. It was hard to watch, but critical: The feeding of pigs to pigs violated state law. Other practices seemed to violate human decency.

“At the end of the day,” one investigator reported, a sow “started making the worst sound I have heard since I started working [here]. I ran to her and she had gotten her nose in between the leverage bar that opens and closes the feed trough and a bar on her cage. … [She] scraped her nose about an inch long [leaving] her mouth bleeding.”

Moments like these would be concealed from the American public under proposed “ag gag” laws introduced in state legislatures around the country the last few years. Pushed by the meat, dairy and egg industries, the bills seek to criminalize whistleblowing by making it illegal to take undercover video or photos on farms and to seek employment for the purpose of going undercover. They sometimes require mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that whistleblowers must “out” themselves before they can document a pattern of abuse.

  • An investigation at a Hallmark slaughter plant in California prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Photo by The HSUS

In addition to raising animal welfare concerns, ag gag bills block exposure of food safety threats, unsafe working conditions and environmental problems at industrial agricultural operations. Ag gag laws would have prevented The HSUS from uncovering not only the forced cannibalism at Kentucky’s Iron Maiden Hog Farm, but the criminal abuse of pigs at Wyoming Premium Farms and the Hallmark slaughter plant in California sending sick downer cattle into the nation’s school food supply.

“The industry’s response is not to clean up the bad behavior, but rather to make investigations illegal,” says Matt Dominguez, public policy manager for the HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign. “The strategy we use is to show what they’re trying to hide.”

The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Knoxville News Sentinel and The Indianapolis Star are among the many newspapers to take stands against these anti-whistleblower bills. Thanks in large part to a huge public outcry, dozens of attempted bills have failed since 2011.

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