Ag-gag Laws Threaten Environmental And Animal Rights Movements

In the last few years there have been many notable examples of environmental and animal rights advocates exposing the abuses of factory farms. One of the most common practices is to take cameras into livestock facilities and film the abhorrent treatment of animals by employees. These videos are often the only source of information we have for what actually takes place inside the industry, but new legislative proposals in several states are threatening the legality of such reporting.

The New York Times published a piece two weeks ago about the agriculture industry's latest efforts to silence critics and stymie freedom of speech. They're called "ag-gag" bills by critics, and they make it much more difficult for advocates to conduct undercover investigations to document harsh treatment of animals.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group that often works on behalf of the agriculture industry, has published several "model bills" that are drafted by lobbyists and then promoted in state houses across the country.

The model bills are given titles like "The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act", and prohibit any filming on the premises of livestock facilities with the intent to "defame the facility or its owner". One bill would require any violators to be placed on a "terrorist registry".

Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, an animal rights advocacy organization, told the source that the new proposals could significantly limit their ability to expose criminal actions by factory farms. "It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct undercover investigations," Bala said.

The abuses don't just stem from agriculture facilities. In 2011, the Humane Society, another animal rights organization, produced video showing severe abuses of horses at a training facility, where workers dropped caustic chemicals on horses' ankles to force them to walk with a high-stepped gait favored by breeders.

If these bills are passed, they could significantly limit our ability to judge which companies are using humane practices to raise animals. Keep checking back with as we continue to monitor this issue.

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