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Andrew Gunther Headshot

Ag Gag Bill on the Governor's Desk!

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America, what is going on? In the free world we pride ourselves on freedom of speech, freedom to carry a gun, freedom to run a business -- those are our rights. But with those rights come responsibilities. Regulation and oversight is continuously lessened to empower our economy to grow, so in a society where we don't have regulators, society regulates itself.

The vast majority of America's farmers are honest honorable people working hard to make a living. But as in all walks of life, there are those that abuse the rights we have and it's exactly those individuals and companies that must be exposed.

That won't be the case in Iowa anymore. In the matter of a few hours last Wednesday, the Iowa Senate took up an "ag gag" bill, made some amendments, and passed it on a 40-10 vote. The House then took up the Senate changes and immediately approved them without debate on a 69-28 vote.

The bill, House File 589, has been signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad, becoming the first "ag gag" law in America.

The "Ag Gag" bill, which was openly backed by the industrial farming lobby, was promoted on the basis that it would help to improve animal welfare and protect family farms. But the stark reality is that this law has absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare and is nothing more than Big Ag protecting its interests again -- stealthily promoting legislation that would effectively make it a felony to expose the horrific practices that are going on behind the doors of industrial farms.

The new law would make it a serious misdemeanor to falsify a job application in order to gain access to a farm facility -- those found guilty would face up to a year in jail and up to $1,500 in fines. Repeated offenses would be labeled aggravated felony and carry jail time of up to two years and fines up to $5,000. It's unclear how undocumented workers would be affected by the policy. A more direct version of the same bill, containing language barring undercover videotaping or recording altogether, was passed by the Iowa House of Representatives last year. In an attempt to avoid constitutional challenges, the original was restructured to sidestep the Supreme Court's previous ruling that such recordings constituted free speech. This is exactly right -- when there is no regulation in the marketplace, exercising this right to inform consumers about the realities of production is the only way to ensure compliance with society's expectations. The support of this bill by Big Ag is particularly perplexing as a strategy from an industry trying to be seen as transparent.

So Big Ag's attempts to close its doors on public scrutiny begs the question: What's going on at these farms that is so appalling that they are going to use the power of the law to prevent people from seeing it? Well, we already know that. The undercover video taken at the E6 Cattle Company is just one in a long line of horrific videos and photographs that expose the systemic welfare abuses that go right to the heart of the industrial livestock farming system. E6 Cattle Company raises tens of thousands of calves each year for use on dairy farms. In the latest video, E6 Cattle Co. workers are shown bludgeoning calves with pickaxes and hammers numerous times before the animals are rendered unconscious, as well as kicking downer calves in the head and standing on their necks and ribs. The abuse at E6 Cattle Co. is without a doubt some of the worst that I have seen. Yet if the proposed Ag Gag legislation in front of the Governor had been in effect, none of us would have been informed of this atrocity.

And that's just the way that the billion dollar industrial farming industry wants to keep it. The only farming images that they want you to associate with their shadowy businesses are the bucolic picket-fenced scenes you'll find on their food packaging and advertising.

At a time when more people are becoming aware of the devastating impact that industrialized farming is having on our health, the health of animals, and the health of our planet, it's no coincidence that Big Ag and its political friends are campaigning for secrecy legislation to prevent people from seeing what goes on behind closed doors at industrial farms. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize the real purpose of this Ag Gag legislation -- it's a shocking abuse of power and the politicians involved should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

In the land of the free, we have the right to know how our food is produced and what we are feeding our families. As we keep saying our food industry is now controlled by a handful of immensely powerful and strangely secretive corporations that are only too willing to put shareholder profits ahead of our health, the livelihood of American farmers and workers, and the environment. They don't want you to know what goes on behind their locked gates and barbed wire fences because chances are that if you knew, you wouldn't want to touch some of your food -- let alone eat it.

Let me reiterate: At Animal Welfare Approved, we don't have an agenda to stop anyone eating meat. Our sole purpose is to promote high-welfare farming and we believe that farmed animals have a vital role to play in sustainable farming systems. Our standards have been rated "most stringent" by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and given the most transparent rating by consumers union and our independent on-farm auditing system ensures that our farmers follow our standards to the letter. When you see the Animal Welfare approved logo, you can be confident that the food you are buying really was produced to the highest welfare standards possible. Our farmers have nothing to hide: They are proud of their farms and of what they do, and many actively encourage photography on their farms on a regular basis to document the way that farming can and should be done.

A good farmer is proud of their farm and if they are not, they shouldn't be farming and folks shouldn't be buying the food they produce.

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