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Ag-Gag Laws Keep Animal Cruelty Behind Closed Doors

Instead of stopping abuse on factory farms, Big Ag would rather make it illegal to expose it


Animal abuse. Environmental offenses. Unsafe working conditions. Food safety violations. These happen every day on factory farms, and the meat and egg industries don’t want you to know about it. That’s why whistleblowing employees and undercover investigations are so important in bringing about reform. But instead of cleaning up their act, agribusiness would rather just make it illegal to expose these problems. That’s why they’re pushing “ag-gag” bills across the country.

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What is ag-gag?

Ag-gag bills seek to make it difficult or impossible for whistleblowing employees or animal advocacy groups to expose animal cruelty or safety issues. These bills can take a variety of forms, but the intent is the same: to punish those who expose patterns of animal abuse or food safety violations on factory farms, and therefore conceal these abuses from the public. 

How do ag-gag laws work?

Initially, ag-gag bills were designed to punish anyone who videotapes cruelty. When these bills started succeeding in the courts, they evolved to include persecuting anyone who “misrepresented” themselves on a job application—targeting investigators who seek employment for the purpose of going undercover.

In their latest iteration, many ag-gag bills are now “quick reporting” bills, requiring undercover investigators to turn over footage almost immediately. This type of bill prevents investigators from documenting a pattern of abuse, which is often required for a full legal case. The factory farm operator will then call any violation an isolated incident, and avoid meaningful repercussions.

  • A 2008 investigation at a slaughter plant in California prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Photo by The HSUS

What do ag-gag laws mean for animals and people?

Ag-gag laws are a threat to public health, animal welfare and the environment. Such laws could have prevented The HSUS from uncovering cases like the forced cannibalism at Kentucky’s Iron Maiden Hog Farm, where piglets' intestines were ground up and fed to their mothers, as well as the criminal abuse of pigs at Wyoming Premium Farms and of calves at a Vermont veal slaughter plant. An ag-gag law might have stopped the 2008 HSUS investigation that revealed a California slaughter plant sending sick downer cattle into the nation’s school food supply. A 2015 New York Times editorial called ag-gag laws "nothing more than government-sanctioned censorship of a matter of public interest."

Which states have ag-gag laws?

Six states have ag-gag laws on the books: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina. Federal judges have struck down ag-gag laws in Idaho and Utah, declaring them unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.

The HSUS and our allies have helped defeat more than 30 ag-gag bills across the country in the past five years.

What can I do to fight ag-gag?

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