Food Fight

New Laws Turn Animal Abuse-Exposing Activists Into ‘Terrorists’

Who's going to document the abuse of pigs?
Who’s going to document the abuse of pigs? Photo: iStockphoto

In what seems like a big, cheerful, and steroid-pumped victory for factory farming, the Times reports on a new wave of so-called “Ag-Gag” bills that have been drafted or enacted in approximately one dozen states and exist, counterintuitively, to punish any activist who endeavors to expose the suffering of animals or depict instances of cruelty at factory farms and other agricultural settings. If lawmakers succeed, humane groups say, the collection of wide-reaching laws will effectively make it impossible to collect evidence of animal abuse in the future.

You’ve no doubt seen one or more exposés in the last few years depicting deplorable conditions and animal cruelty at factory farms or slaughterhouses. There are videos of sickly pigs suffocating in gestation crates, night-vision-lit infiltrations on poultry farms where badly injured hens are packed into cages atop decomposing carcasses. More videos depict bleeding and injured animals, piglets being thrown into Dumpsters. Many of these are shot by videographers working with the Humane Society, and evidence presented to authorities has historically ended with prosecutions, fines, and even reform among producers.

Ag-Gag bills, however, the Times reports, require potential whistle-blowers to submit their video footage to authorities essentially as soon as it’s collected, a measure advocates say prevents them from accumulating any detailed or significant body of evidence, which is typically gathered over a long period of time by someone working undercover at a farm where abuse takes place. Lawmakers justify this by arguing that the quick turnaround gives authorities more leverage to enforce the law. It also has the added benefit of demonizing producers and avoiding inconvenient PR nightmares! “That property owner is essentially guilty before they had the chance to address the issue,” says Don Lehe, an Indiana lawmaker, who supports the legislation. Yeah, Don, that’s sort of the point, to hold those who are traditionally excellent at unaccountability to be accountable. After all, chickens with broken wings can’t send text messages.

The growing cadre of factory farmers and lobbyists are floating these bills by arguing that many of these videos that purport to be exposés are in fact depicting regular life on the farm and routine slaughter. They’re really just arguments against eating meat, not depictions of abuse, which is why so many of these bills require prospective job applicants to disclose any past or current affiliation with activist groups under penalty of criminal charges. They’re basically smoking out the vegans in their midst.

There’s even the delightfully Orwellian “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” which outlaws photos and video taken by anyone seeking to “defame the facility or its owner.” Anyone found guilty of taking these kinds of pictures also faces the prospect of criminal charges, of course, but will also have their name added to a “terrorist registry,” the paper reports.

Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime

New Laws Turn Animal Abuse-Exposing Activists Into ‘Terrorists’