Undercover photographs and videos taken at factory farms belonging to some of the nation's largest meat producers often show horrific footage of animals in crowded, substandard living conditions suffering beyond almost anything that we can otherwise imagine. So called "ag-gag" bills, now being considered in multiple states, could shield the public from seeing such evidence.
Supporters, such as Florida Republican Senator Jim Norman, have argued that such bills protect the rights of farmers. Many farmers have indeed supported the bills. The Florida Tribune, for example, interviewed Wilton Simpson, a farmer who lives in Norman's district.
Simpson, later quoted in blogs like the Daily Loaf, mentioned that farmers like him need to have their property rights protected, not to mention the "intellectual property" involving farm operations.
Simpson, president of Simpson Farms near Dade City, pointed out that people should not be allowed to pose as farmworkers so that they can secretly film agricultural operations.
(Warning: The videos here contain harsh language and show very disturbing footage that may not be appropriate for all viewers.)
The bills do touch on multiple legal matters involving the rights of agricultural operations, the right of the public to know what happens on factory farms, and the rights of the animals themselves.
If the bills pass, employees and others who seek to expose not only animal abuse, but also other criminal conduct on farms, could risk misdemeanor charges of the first degree. They might even have to serve prison time and pay a fee.
This year alone, ag-gag bills have been introduced in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.
Last year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal rights activists fought hard to combat similar bills in New York, Iowa and Minnesota. Just recently, the ASPCA announced that Florida lawmakers, including Norman, removed the ag-gag language from House Bill 1021 and Senate Bill 1184.
The following video was shot undercover at an Ohio dairy farm:
Ironically, as an ASPCA press release points out, undercover video taken at a dairy farm in Florida more a decade ago showing young calves wounded by gunshot and then being shoved into a watery pit to drown served as the inspiration for the Florida legislature to pass its current humane slaughter and euthanasia laws (F.S.S. 828.22-828.26). In many states, such documentation has been instrumental to law enforcement, farming reform and new laws protecting animal and public welfare.
"Bills like this (the ag-gag ones) only serve to heighten suspicion that the agricultural industry has something to hide," Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA farm animal welfare campaign, was quoted as saying in a press release. "Americans deserve to know how their food is produced, and responsible farmers should welcome that transparency. Where there are problems, industry should direct its energy toward resolving them, not covering them up."
"Legislators carefully examined the bills, listened to the concerns raised by thousands of their constituents and ultimately took the correct action," added Ann Church, vice president of state affairs for the ASPCA. "We are hopeful that Florida, a state with very significant agricultural interests, will serve as a bellwether for other states where similarly draconian legislation is being considered and lawmakers continue to balk at the myriad assaults these bills would deliver to American values."
In addition to affecting factory farms, the bills have the potential to shield slaughter plants and puppy mills from legitimate investigations.