Agricultural gag laws, also known as ag-gag, are designed to prevent, among other things, the publishing of video taken within slaughterhauses and factory farms. The laws work primarily to silence and intimidate whistleblowers, and have spread out over the United States into 14 states (Iowa, Utah, South Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, California, Vermont, and North Carolina).
In a positive turn of events, Idaho federal district judge B. Lynn Winmill declared the agricultural gag laws in Idaho unconstitutional.
It’s an amazing victory that a federal judge declared anti-whistleblower laws unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate our right to free speech. For a stark contrast, compare this to a judge in Pennsylvania who allowed a life-long gag orders on a 7 and 9 year old related to fracking.
Unfortunately, the punishment for “recording agricultural operations” is classified as a felony, and in some instances even as terrorism under a law written and then passed in Tennessee and California named the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act.” If you don’t believe me, click that link and check Section 3, Part 2, provision (e).
Prohibition of whistle-blower activities is never done in good faith, and as the ALEC document and then resulting laws show: it is written and passed along to politicians by lobbyists. This should be of little surprise to anyone familiar with the Princeton study regarding decisions made by Congress, which describes the United States as an “oligarchy” in its conclusion.
Public awareness about the methods, policies, and regulations help to create wider discussions about improvement. The first laws really regulating meat processing and packing were the results of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and not due to benevolent will or a drive to create a “superior product.”
Even in countries where regulation is existent and strict there are scandals of companies not using the ingredients they claim, like Europe’s 2013 horse meat scandal. You really can’t know what’s in the meat you’re eating, or that it was processed cleanly, unless regulators are in place to check it and provide incentive for companies to create strict internal regulations to avoid failure.
The reason this doesn’t happen in the United States is, again, because industry literally writes and passes on laws to legislators. It is much cheaper to influence and make life easy for politicians than it is to adapt to legitimate reform. The fact of the matter is that it actually happens everywhere where there isn’t extensive public participation (and pressure) in politics, which may be connected to the fact that fewer people participate when they feel the system is corrupt.
We need to celebrate every victory and move effectively in existing struggles. Getting rid of ag-gag laws are just one of many important pieces of creating a more transparent and sane system. Theoretically, government should be a transparent institution that citizens can use to discuss and solve problems in a neutral arena, but the reality of politics in human history and current reality is much different.
Unlike in the past, we have the capacity to make government decisions and activities accessible and visible to the interested citizen, and provide forums for actual discussion with the public and independent experts prior to the finalization of the bills. Simultaneously, industry is more active than ever in trying to restrict our ability to influence politics and public opinion. To me, the clear solution is that involvement, mutual support, and activism is called for.