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Ed Sayres

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Ag-Gag Bills Threaten Our Children, Our Freedom and Our Animals

Posted: 03/22/2012 10:48 am

Americans overwhelmingly believe that food from our farms should be safe to eat and that farm animals should not be abused for its production. So it is disturbing that legislators in a number of states throughout the country are considering legislation known as "Ag-Gag" bills that would cripple the ability of investigators to expose animal abuse and food safety concerns. Ag-Gag bills criminalize taking photos or videos on farms to expose problems, such as animal cruelty, environmental and labor violations, and other illegal or unethical behavior. Simply put, Ag-Gag legislation poses a danger to the American public -- people and animals.

Four years ago, undercover video led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history. The video, taken at Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, Calif., revealed workers at the slaughter plant kicking sick cows, ramming cows with the blades of a forklift, and torturing crippled cows to force them to walk to slaughter. In that case, the slaughterhouse that was shut down was also the second largest supplier to the National School Lunch Program, so schoolchildren throughout the country were at a serious health risk.

Legislators bent on suppressing exposés through the passage of Ag-Gag legislation are not only harming animals, but putting all of us -- including our children -- in jeopardy by preventing our access to critical information about our food supply. They also threaten our constitutional rights by stifling dissemination of information and chipping away at our First Amendment protections.

It's ironic when you think about it. The individuals targeted by Ag-Gag laws are not the criminals who are beating or stabbing animals (as seen on some undercover videos). Instead, the bills would punish the whistleblowers, the people who dare to lift the veil on these oft-hidden cruelties. The language in the bills varies somewhat state to state, but in many cases the penalties for exposing cruelty may be harsher than those for the actual commission of cruelty. In a number of states the proposed legislation would not only prevent the documentation of the abuse of farm animals, but also could prohibit investigations of puppy mills and dog racing.

Lawmakers who support Ag-Gag bills do so because they are accommodating the agribusiness lobby, not because it is in the interest of their constituents. In fact, a recent national poll by Lake Research Partners found that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms.

According to the Lake Research poll, opposition to Ag-Gag legislation is steadfast across demographic, geographic and partisan lines. A majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree that banning undercover investigations is wrong. Likewise, a majority of respondents in all regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West) oppose the criminalization of undercover investigations at farms. No matter the demographic, Americans don't want to be deemed criminals for exposing wrongdoing.

Twenty-seven national organizations and experts -- from animal welfare groups to civil liberties, public health and workers' rights associations -- have united to oppose Ag-Gag bills. These groups, including the ASPCA, have signed a letter stating in part:

... These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers' rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply. We call on state legislators around the nation to drop or vote against these dangerous and un-American efforts.

Ag-Gag laws are an affront to many values Americans hold dear. If you live in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska or New York, you should be especially concerned since Ag-Gag laws are now pending in your state legislatures. Please contact your legislators to let them know that Ag-Gag laws are dangerous for people and animals.