Stunning Ag-gag Bill News

Stunning Ag-gag Bill News

Amy Meyer wanted to see for herself where her food was coming from. But in the state of Utah, she discovered, that was against the law.

On February 8, Meyer drove to Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City, Utah, and took a look from the side of the road. She gasped as she peered through the barbed wire fence and saw what appeared to be a sick cow being treated like rubble as it was carried in a tractor. So she did what many people would do in this day and age. She got out her smartphone to begin recording.

Charges against Amy Meyer were dropped, but the "ag gag" law is still on the books.
Charges against Amy Meyer were dropped, but the “ag gag” law is still on the books.

For this, Meyer was prosecuted under Utah’s new “ag-gag” law.

It turns out that similar laws are now in place not just in Utah, but also in Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri. And many other states are considering similar legislation.

The goal of these laws, it would appear, is to keep consumers from seeing where modern meat really comes from. Considering that 94% of the American public believes that animals raised for food should be free from abuse and cruelty, the modern meat industry has some good reasons to fear the public finding out that Old MacDonald’s farm isn’t so happy these days.

Charges against Meyer were subsequently dropped, but Utah’s law is still on the books. And now Amy Meyer is joining with award winning author Will Potter and a team of organizations in filing a lawsuit challenging her state’s controversial law in the courts.

Soon thereafter, in Kansas on June 28th, a photographer working for a publication not generally seen as promoting a radical agenda, National Geographic, was arrested and briefly jailed after taking aerial pictures of a feedlot for a series on food issues to be published some time next year.

George Steinmetz has taken award-winning photos in many dangerous situations, including a series depicting post-Gaddafi Libya. But it was his photographs of U.S. feedlots, taken from a paraglider in an area with hundreds of thousands of cattle, that got him put behind bars.

Kansas has its own “ag-gag bill,” called the “Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act.” This law makes it illegal to “enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or by any other means.”

Apparently, the feedlot executives may have considered paragliding to be a form of illegal entry, and they wanted Steinmetz to feel the force of the law. Industry officials said they believe his actions represent a “food security issue.” Steinmetz had also parked and taken off from private property, so “trespassing” is central to the charge he now faces. But do you really think he’d have been arrested for parking there had he merely stopped to read a book?

The spread of ag-gag bills is alarming for many reasons. Aside from exposing specific incidents of animal abuse, undercover videos have also drawn attention to industry practices such as housing chickens in cramped battery cages that hasten the sickening of birds and the spread of salmonella.

Elizabeth Holmes, an attorney with the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, comments: “The reason these are public health issues, and not just animal rights issues, is that those unsanitary conditions provide breeding grounds (for disease).”

Holmes has a point. Keeping animals alive in wretched conditions requires the use of massive amounts of pharmaceutical drugs. Nearly 80% of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, not people. The antibiotic overuse that allows meat producers to keep animals in filth and misery is spawning drug-resistant superbugs.

Earlier this year, an Environmental Working Group study found antibiotic resistant “super bugs” on 81% of the ground turkey and 55% of the ground beef in America’s supermarkets.

With antibiotic resistant bacteria costing us more than $55 billion and killing tens of thousands of people each year, you could even argue that today’s factory farms have become a form of biological weapons factory.

But don’t we have meat inspectors who monitor animal treatment? Isn’t it their job to insure that the laws against excessive animal cruelty to animals, however weak they may be, are enforced? Aren’t they being paid to look out for the public interest?

Unfortunately, thanks to the weight of agribusiness interests, even USDA meat inspectors don’t always feel free to protect animals or public health.

After 29 years as a USDA meat inspector, Jim Schrier was recently stationed at a Tyson Foods slaughter facility in Iowa where he reported clear humane handling violations to his supervisor. That’s what he was supposed to do – report the violations to his superior in the chain of command. But when Schrier presented his concerns, the supervisor reportedlybecame very angry, and a week later required Jim to work at another facility 120 miles away. Then the USDA reassigned Jim permanently to a plant in another state.

In what looks an awful lot like a form of whistleblower retaliation, after 29 years of service, Schrier must now choose between his job, and his family.

When Jim’s wife, Tammy, launched a petition on change.org exposing this story and calling for Jim to get his old job back, some of the first signers were other employees who had worked at the same plant and who corroborated Schrier’s findings. Instead of being punished, they said, he should be rewarded and the whole plant should be inspected.

The significance of all this is huge. The first amendment to the United States constitution states: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”There are serious questions about whether ag-gag bills, and retaliation against whistleblowers like Jim Schrier, are even constitutional. But whatever the courts decide, we are already paying a terrible price for the climate of repression they institutionalize.

Shutting up people like Amy Meyer, George Steinmetz, and Jim Schrier makes it hard for any of us to know where our food comes from. Shutting them up also allows the meat industry to get away with treating animals terribly, and with jeopardizing public health by breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria. But there’s more.

Tyrants of all stripes thrive in the darkness. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “A properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate.”

If journalists and whistleblowers aren’t allowed to speak the truth, we’re going to have an awfully hard time retaining any semblance of a functioning democracy.
Ocean Robbins is co-author of Voices of the Food Revolution, and serves as CEO and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 100,000+ member Food Revolution Network. Find out more and sign up for free here.

15 COMMENTS

  1. If the human race is still in existence in the future this age will be known as "The Age of Insanity"
    We really need to be able to publicise what is happening to our animals and environment without fear or favour. What is happening to our animals in particular is so shocking it makes me ashamed to be a human. We (in Australia) have recently been made aware of the hideous cruelty our animals are subjected to when they reach Middle Eastern countries, who demand live animals so that they can be slaughtered according to their religion. The video of the torture of these beautiful animals who were clearly so relieved to be getting off the ship after the long sea voyage was shocking and sickening, they were completely betrayed, (so happy, and the next minute tortured to death!) by us allowing these exports. I am sick of people saying "If we don't send live exports other countries will". There are humane people all around the world who would protest at the treatment we saw of our beautiful Brahmin and other cattle, these people seemed to be getting pleasure from the gouging out of eyes and beating a cow with a broken leg in order to get it to stand when it clearly was obvious that it couldn't get up and torturing another animal in front of the next one for "the chop" which was clearly terrified when it saw what was in store for it. (Just to mention a couple of the obscenities) I don't know how the person who was filming it all managed to keep their sanity, she certainly has guts. I felt as though I was going off my head just watching the TV program of this atrocity..
    We must stand up for the animals, they have no choice in the matter, they are domesticated whether they want to be or not. (And the saddest thing is that generally they love us. If we treat them right and allow them a decent life until they are HUMANELY killed we will be doing ourselves a good turn too. What goes around comes around.

    • I completely agree. I saw a video where a man on a family farm, not even a big slaughterhouse, was kicking in the head of a poor cow with his boots and was laughing at its cries of pain. Big man,huh? I honestly would not feel sorry for humanity if an alien race would come here and do the same to us. Most of us deserve it.

      • You're right, not a big man but a crawling apology of a man. Why do we still claim that the human race is the most intelligent species? Eating meat seems very unattractive now unless I can find some that is humanely produced. Humanely: now there's a word that used to mean compassionately, but it seems that humans are more capable of cruelty than any other animal.

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