Let me say for the record that I’m that vegan everyone teases/hates when I go out with people to a party or even when we order lunch in the office. I can tell you 10 different ways a burger is bad for you without even getting into whether or not it came from McDonalds. But regardless of whether you eat two steaks or raw, gluten-free chickpea salad for dinner there is a new trend that you should be worried about: “Ag Gag” Bills.
What is an “Ag Gag” bill, you ask?
An “Ag Gag” bill is a piece of legislation that makes it illegal to photograph, film, and/or otherwise document agricultural operations without explicit permission. It can also place restrictions on when/how any documentation, making it virtually impossible to publish.
SO! There are a number of reasons why Ag Gag bills are more than just an environmental issue. They are also also a feminist, immigration, and human rights issue. I’ll start with some of the obvious ones first.
- Ag Gag bills are attempts to keep unpleasant truths about food production away from public viewing, nevermind that this is the very food we put in our bodies. The largest meat recall in U.S. history came as the result of an undercover video of “downer” cows, which are too sick or weak to stand, being propped into position by a forklift, slaughtered and used for human consumption. Downer cows are suspected carriers of mad cow disease, salmonella and E. coli. Best part? The meat recalled was predominantly tagged to be used for school lunches or by fast food chains. Under an Ag Gag law, the person videotaping would be a criminal. Ag Gag bills could also prevent people from exposing the use of toxic pesticides on vegetables and fruit, the effects of genetically-modified-organism (GMO) soy, corn, and wheat on our genetic makeup, and how bovine-growth-hormone creates imbalances in our hormones.
- Ag Gag bills also prevent individuals or organizations from taking action when the EPA or other government agency fails to do so. A prime example of this is the use of gestation crates. Through acts of videotaping and photographing, the use of gestation crates on pigs was banned in nine states and is being phased out by some pork producers. However, government agencies don’t always have the resources to enforce the bans, and some farms are completely exempt from inspections. But thanks to an Ag Gag bill, if individuals notice the infractions and document them so the agency has evidence, they are now criminals.
- Undercover photos/videos not only uncover animal abuses, but labor and worker abuses too. Farms aren’t the rolling hills with the red barn that we see in kids books. Often there is lots of heavy machinery, enclosed spaces, toxic chemicals, animal excrement, and poor building regulations. Workers have to wear gas masks and gloves when working with animals to make sure they do not breathe in ammonia. On meat farms, workers must avoid manure lagoons that will kill them if they fall in. In some factory farms, workers are not being properly paid, are denied workers’ compensation for injuries, and are threatened when they try to report an infraction. Even if a photograph or video documents severe human rights abuses, under Ag Gag, it wouldn’t matter because the person recording the image committed a crime.
- Many of the workers are undocumented and have few, if any, legal protections against abuse. Many factory farms, whether meat, dairy, or vegetable, often hire undocumented workers so they can pay lower wages and not worry about complaints. Combined with language barriers among workers and supervisors, the factory farm system utilizes borderline free labor while not having to worry about worker protections. Supervisors can threaten workers with reporting them to Immigration and Naturalization Services if they try to report an infraction or file a complaint. With few resources available inside the food industry, outside individual documentation of animal and worker abuses can provide some visibility of what undocumented workers are exposed to. But with Ag Gag bills, the food industry could keep the abuse of undocumented workers away from public eyes.
- What about Freedom of Speech? In multiple cases Wanted posters of abortion providers that could incite violence have been defended as free speech, but these Ag Gag bills would violate first amendment rights in cases where there is no explicit or implicit threat against an individual.
Think Ag Gag bills won’t really amount to anything? One woman has already been charged for violating the Utah Ag Gag law. Her charges have since been dropped due to new evidence in the case.
I personally am terrified of the idea that I could be arrested for trying to find out what’s in my food, especially when food is so loosely regulated as it is. What affects meat affects dairy affect vegetables affects meat and so on. Five states already have Ag Gag laws on the books and more are considering them.