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/ February 12, 2013
‘Ag-Gag’ Bill Threatens To Squash Whistleblowers In Midwest

You may have heard bad things about big agriculture before. “Corporate domination”, “animal factory”, and “sewage city” are all buzz words thrown around about the industry. But now, there’s good news: soon, you may not have to hear about it anymore…because they won’t let you!

A new bill preventing people from documenting conditions in factory farms is threatening to silence whistleblowers who expose unsafe working environments and animal abuses in Indiana.

Proposed Senate bill 373, which would make is a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to photograph or videotape industrial and agricultural property, goes before the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee this afternoon. Dubbed ‘Ag Gag’ laws by prolific NYTimes writer Mark Bittman, bills like this one are hardly a novelty—similar legislature has been enacted previously in Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, and proposed in many more states.

While farmers and big agriculture argue that they are protecting trade secrets and family farms, animal and worker activist groups contend that the laws squash freedom of information, and will ensure that any wrongdoings go unreported.

“Minnesota’s “ag-gag” law — isn’t that a great name? — would seek to punish not only photographers and videographers, but also those who distribute their work, which means organizations like the Humane Society of the United States,” wrote Bittman in a piece last year, on the heels of an animal cruelty expose at a cattle farm in Texas that uncovered employees “euthanizing” animals with sledgehammers and pickaxes.

“There are some business owners that really put the humane conditions of the animals at the very bottom of the list,” Valerie Shay, a Common Council member in Indiana who opposes the bill, told ABCNews.

According to Grist (who postulated that 2013 could be ‘the year of ag-gag bills’), the bill is a descendant of one proposed in 2003 by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbyist group funded by large corporations like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

While animal rights activists are some of the most vocal adversaries to the bill, others are concerned that journalists and investigators won’t discover worker abuses and health code violations, as well. Although farm owners and agriculture representatives contend that employees will be the ones to blow the whistle on any abuses, it seems unlikely that a worker would jeopardize his welfare to report one. And the bill also extends to puppy mills, commercial dog breeding factories that are notorious for their welfare violations.

Unsafe working conditions, agricultural runoff pollution, and food contamination are other issues raised by opponents. In one episode in 2008, the Humane Society of the United States uncovered workers at a California slaughterhouse torturing sick cows, and then allowing the tainted meat to be mixed with that of healthy cows. Worst of all, the slaughterhouse was a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program. The scandal triggered the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

Without investigations like this, opponents argue, animal, worker, and health abuses in big agriculture could run rampant, unchecked by muckraking groups.

[Image via  Elnur /]