Could Ag-Gag Laws Backfire?
Factory farms are fighting to keep people from seeing what goes on behind their gates. Rather than cleaning up their act as quickly as possible when shocking undercover video of their operations is released to the public, the reaction of the animal factories has been to lobby for laws that make it a crime to take any undercover video at all.
Last year, Iowa and Utah passed laws targeting humane organizations by making it illegal to enter a factory farm under “false pretenses.” Similar laws are pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee. They’ve also been proposed in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and are expected to be introduced in Vermont, Minnesota and North Carolina, too. (How the laws and bills work in the different states is well outlined in this recent article in The Atlantic.) If round one went to the animal protection groups and round two has been going to the factory farms, round three may go to the media.
Factory farms are also trying to head off whistleblowers by requiring that employees report any abuse they witness to management immediately, rather than passing the information along to anyone outside the factory.
But if round one went to the animal protection groups and round two has been going to the factory farms, round three has just begun. And round three may go to the media.
Why, people are beginning to ask, are consumers of meat being prohibited from seeing where their food comes from and how it is produced?
An op-ed in the New York Times by former undercover investigator Jedediah Purdy argues that it should be completely unnecessary for anyone to have to go undercover and risk being sent to prison for showing us how our food is produced. Just as CCTV cameras record what goes on at banks, in stores and on our streets, so these video cameras should be routine at factory farms.
We should require confined-feeding operations and slaughterhouses to install webcams at key stages of their operations. List the URL’s to the video on the packaging.
Other industries, after all, are required to disclose similar information:
For a couple of decades, federal law has required chemical plants to release details of their toxic emissions to the public. Most scholars agree that embarrassment and public pressure have pushed down pollution as a result, without further regulation.
Purdy addresses the argument of factory farm operators that edited footage of undercover video could misrepresent what’s really going on when we see people kicking, dragging and beating the animals.
There would be no need for human intrusion into dangerous sites. No tricky angles or scary edits by activists. Just the visual facts. If the operators felt their work misrepresented, they could add cameras to give an even fuller picture.
Rebecca Roache picks up the subject in a post on the U.K. blog Practical Ethics.
Animal abuse would be exposed and addressed in a way that does not attract the charge of unfairness leveled at the practice of covert filming. Employers would be responsible for continuously monitoring the behavior of their staff captured on CCTV, thus avoiding being caught ‘on the back foot’ when abusive behavior in their company is publicized before they have been given the chance to respond.
… The mere presence of CCTV would encourage those who earn a living by killing animals … to regulate their otherwise disgusting and depraved behavior. And vets and public bodies responsible for monitoring and enforcing animal welfare regulation in slaughterhouses and the like would be able to do so without the intimidation and bullying that currently inhibits their ability to carry out their work effectively.
The British charity Animal Aid, which took undercover video of nine slaughterhouses over a two-year period, is actively campaigning for CCTV to be mandatory in all U.K. slaughterhouses.
Rather than caving in to demands for more secrecy at animal factories, legislators in the United States would also do well to require transparency in terms of how our food is produced. Concentrated animal feeding operations, slaughterhouses and dairy producers that go about their business in a responsible fashion have nothing to fear. People who eat animal products will want to patronize their products. And the factory farms that allow abuse of animals will be forced to clean up their act.
That’s how a free market is supposed to work.