It is sad, but true—there are now seven states that have “ag gag” laws in effect. The North Carolina legislature just recently voted to override the governor’s veto of an ag gag bill introduced this year. Ag gag, or anti-whistleblower, laws prevent the exposure of animal cruelty, food safety issues, poor working conditions, and environmental issues at factory farms. Although they may not explicitly say so, they specifically target undercover animal advocates.
The following is a list of states that currently have ag gag laws in effect:
You may notice that there are two time periods that these bills have been passed—the early 1990s and the past few years. It is no coincidence that there has recently been a resurgence in ag gag bills being introduced across the country, although a majority of the states passing the bills are states with a large animal agriculture presence. My opinion, and the view of many others, is that those involved in agribusiness are fearful. They are fearful that animal advocacy organizations and individuals are gaining ground in the fight against animal cruelty. They are fearful that more people, not just vegetarians and vegans, want to know where their food comes from, and how it gets to their plate. They are fearful that what happens in their facilities will be uncovered and, as a result, their profits will suffer.
Fortunately for those who operate factory farms, and unfortunately for the animals, they have lots of money to lobby for these ag gag bills. And, also on their side is the fact that the government is intertwined in their operations. You probably recall the New York Times article earlier this year that reported that the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska was performing horrible experiments on animals in order to make them more “efficient,” which only helps factory farm operators. It is interesting that in this day and age, when transparency is a buzz word that is used in several industries and levels of government, when it comes to agribusiness, the word transparency and its implementation is almost non-existent.
Thankfully, it is not all bad news in the world of ag gag laws. On August 3, 2015, a federal judge in Idaho struck down their ag gag law, stating it violated the right to free speech. This marks the first time a judge has ruled an ag gag law to be unconstitutional. There have also been several states that have defeated ag gag laws over the past few years. However, that doesn’t stop lawmakers in those states from trying to pass another bill in the future.
It’s not just animal advocates who are opposed to ag gag laws. In addition to the animal welfare issue, there is a constitutional issue. Arguments have been made that these laws violate freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The constitutional argument is likely the best approach when fighting ag gag laws, as evidenced by the Idaho case. Professor Erwin Chemerinksy, constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, weighed in on the Idaho law, stating “The Idaho law is deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech. It even would criminalize a whistle-blower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace. I am confident that this law will be struck down under Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedents.”
What I find particularly troubling about ag gag laws is that we, as parents, try our best to encourage our children to expose the negative truths in the world and to make the world a more compassionate place. The message that ag gag laws send to the next generation is that as long as you do something behind closed doors and you don’t allow anyone in on your secret, it is okay. That’s a scary notion, which is why parents need to make efforts to stop any more of these laws from passing, try to overturn the laws that are currently in place, and remind our children to not let hurdles such as these stop them from doing what is right. I am not saying parents should tell their children to break laws in order to do so, but rather they should teach their children that encountering an obstacle, such as an ag gag law, just means you have to find another way to achieve your goal. Hopefully, by the time our children are grown, ag gag laws will be a thing of the past.
Disclaimer: Although Ashlee K. Cartwright, Esq. is a licensed attorney, the content contained in this column is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the columnist and/or website publisher. If you have a question about a specific or personal legal matter, please contact a local licensed attorney.