Emails obtained by reporter Lee Fang of The Intercept reveal that so-called “ag-gag” legislation introduced – and quickly passed – in the state of Idaho was largely crafted by a registered lobbyist for the dairy industry. The bill, versions of which have been passed in nine states around the U.S., criminalizes the use of cameras inside agricultural facilities.
The law was introduced to Idaho lawmakers following an activist’s undercover recording of conditions inside a dairy farm. The video depicts workers at Bettencourt Dairies beating cows and dragging them by the neck, among other abuses. Under the law, people who take video or photographs of animal abuse on farms can face up to 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. North Carolina also passed it’s own ag-gag law last week after state legislators voted to override a veto from Governor Pat McCrory.
Similar ag-gag bills have been introduced and (fortunately) defeated in several states in recent years. However, the states which have passed these laws – such as Idaho and Iowa – represent a sizable portion of the animal agriculture industry, and the leverage they have exercised over lawmakers reflects this.
In April 2013, a Utah woman became the first to be prosecuted under an ag-gag law when she stood on a public street and recorded an injured cow being moved by a tractor “as if she were nothing but rubble.” Luckily, her charges were dropped after a public outcry.
This practice of crafting legislation by industries that benefit from the use of animals and want the public shielded from the details of their treatment is not restricted to laws preventing the recording of animals on farms. As explained by Will Potter, investigative journalist and author of Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, corporations invested in the public’s lack of concern for how animals are treated by industries that profit from them are able to use the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to craft legislation that lawmakers do not know are literally written by representatives of the same corporations that serve to benefit if the bill becomes law.
It’s no mystery why the meat, dairy, and egg industries have a vested interest in preventing the public from knowing the process by which their food is produced. Scores of videos recorded by undercover activists in recent years have documented the cruel treatment of cows, pigs, and chickens on livestock farms. Certainly, these videos and images cause many people throughout the United States to cut down or eliminate their consumption of animal products – and it should be no surprise that the industry is fighting back by trying to kill the messenger.
When an industry or government agency attempts to keep the public in the dark out of fear of negative publicity, then it’s more important than ever to document their activities. While we are constantly told that we need not be afraid of mass surveillance if we “have nothing to hide,” it is remarkably unfair for corporations and governments to put up a one-way mirror to prevent scrutiny and accountability. This is especially true of government agencies who provide services in our name or corporations whose goods we may regularly consume.
So, when the animal agriculture industry lobbies to criminalize photography out of fear that we will no longer be able to stomach what many of us put in our mouths, there is only one appropriate response: photograph the farms!