Time and again, undercover investigations and whistleblowers have documented rampant animal cruelty and other abuses in our nation’s factory farms and slaughterhouses. But instead of working to solve those problems, Big Ag is trying to simply cover them up.
Whistleblowing employees have long played a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions and environmental crimes in industrialized animal agriculture. In 1906, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, an inside look at the horrors of the Chicago meat industry. This eye-opening novel was a major factor in passing the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
Americans today are still highly concerned about the animal suffering, food safety violations and pollution caused by corporate meat, egg and dairy production. But factory farming lobbyists are pressuring state legislators nationwide to pass “ag-gag” laws aimed at intimidating and punishing the whistleblowers, investigators and journalists who are exposing these issues.
What do ag-gag bills do?
These bills take various forms, including:
- Banning photos or videos of a factory farm taken without permission from the owner.
- Making it a crime for an undercover investigator to get work at a factory farm.
- Requiring that any violations be immediately reported. (That may sound like a noble idea, but it’s actually intended to prevent whistleblowers from establishing a pattern of abuse. Because of the power of the factory farming lobby, prosecutors will rarely file charges for farm animal cruelty unless a pattern has been established and the evidence is overwhelming.)
What does the factory farming lobby have to hide anyway?
Dozens of investigations have shown appalling animal cruelty in the meat, egg and dairy industries. For example:
- The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) exposé of calf abuse at a Vermont slaughter plant led to the plant's closure and a felony criminal conviction.
- An HSUS investigation of a cow slaughter plant in California prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history and criminal convictions. Many of the cows were too sick to even stand up. Undercover video footage showed the sick cows being dragged by chains or pushed by forklifts to be slaughtered. A significant amount of the meat from this slaughterhouse was headed to the National School Lunch Program.
- The HSUS’s investigation of Wyoming Premium Farms documented workers punching and kicking mother pigs and piglets, resulting in cruelty charges against nine workers.
In the past, lawmakers backed by animal agribusiness have introduced ag-gag bills in dozens of states. The vast majority of these bills have been defeated by the Humane Society of the United States and other organizations seeking to protect consumers’ right to know where their food comes from. Pressure from the public and newspaper editorial boards have also been instrumental in stopping ag-gag bills.
Of the handful of bills that did become law, five have already been struck down by courts because they infringe on the First Amendment. Taxpayers in Iowa, Utah and Idaho are being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to plaintiffs because politicians in their states passed unconstitutional ag-gag laws under pressure from the factory farming lobby.
It is said that the best disinfectant is daylight. Whistleblowing employees and animal welfare advocates such as the HSUS Investigations Team are on the frontlines of exposing the worst abuses in factory farms, laboratories and puppy mills.
Photo and video evidence not only presents a powerful case against cruel industries, but also provides a shield of protection for employees with the courage to speak out who might otherwise be intimidated or fired if going through traditional complaint reporting channels.
Who opposes anti-whistleblower bills?
The Humane Society of the United States and more than 70 other nonprofit groups defending civil liberties, food safety, the environment, animal welfare, workers' rights and journalism strongly oppose anti-whistleblower ag-gag bills.
Numerous newspapers have editorialized against ag-gag bills, including:
- The Boston Globe
- Casper Star-Tribune
- Chattanooga Times Free Press
- Des Moines Register
- Los Angeles Times
- The New York Times
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Wayne Independent