THE BLOG

'The Stupidest Thing That Ag Ever Did?'

06/06/2013 10:49 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2013
  • Paul Shapiro Vice President of farm animal protection, The Humane Society of the United States

The Tennessean's editorial board called it, "Ridiculous, immature and idiotic."

The San Francisco Chronicle's editors refer to it as, "The worst PR gaffe since New Coke."

Animal welfare scientist and meat industry advisor Temple Grandin, PhD. says it's, "The stupidest thing that ag ever did."

This is just some of the reproach recently issued about the agribusiness industry's effort to enact ag-gag legislation -- bills seeking to criminalize whistleblowing investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants.

Now, in a recent Dairy Herd Network column, dairy industry advocate Hilary Parker echoes what seems to be a growing sentiment from some within agriculture: "Ag-gag bills do more harm than good." Parker offers sage advice to her fellow dairy industry insiders, imploring them: "Think twice before painting yourself in a negative light. Unfortunately, that's what a lot of farm groups are doing with the recent slew of 'ag-gag' bills."

It's infrequent that such a voice of reason is given a platform on the ag forums. More often, they're dominated by the frantic voices of groups like the Animal Agriculture Alliance -- which, in an attempt to bring in fundraising dollars, advocates for ag-gag bills at its own members' expense.

Fortunately for the countless consumers who care about food safety and animal welfare, every ag-gag bill introduced in 2013 thus far has failed. (Only one still remains pending: an irresponsible bill in North Carolina seeking to prevent whistleblowing.) In fact, so far the only thing the bills have succeeded at is generating negative publicity for the animal agriculture industry, leaving millions of Americans wondering just what it is factory farms have to hide.

To answer that question, one needn't look any further than the dozens of damning undercover investigations into agribusiness operations released over the last several years: chickens crammed so tightly into tiny cages that they can't even spread their wings, living in the same space with the rotting corpses of their cage-mates; mother pigs unable to even turn around for months on end inside their gestation crates; factory farm workers sadistically abusing animals; and more.

While it's no surprise that these investigations have meant a black eye for the industry, these blatant attempts to thwart them seem to be even worse. Even the industry's own commentators are now weighing in on the harm caused by ag-gag bills.

The fact is that Parker is right. You don't have to be a horse-riding rancher to have the horse sense to know that people don't like being kept in the dark, nor should they. Americans' desire to learn more about the food system is growing every day, and the meat industry's misguided attempts to close the curtain on that system accomplishes little more than sending up bright red flags.

Next time the ag industry lobbyists sketch out a legislative agenda, they should focus on assuring better treatment of animals and earning public confidence.