Video of a downed cow forklifted into position at a Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company plant in Chino, California filmed in 2008 by an undercover investigator with the Humane Society of the United States, led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
A wave of laws that target animal welfare activists who take undercover videos at factory farms has been criticized for chilling free speech and allowing cruelty to continue in secret. But it’s not only animal well-being at issue. So is public health.
Some food safety experts say these so-called ag-gag laws will cloak disease-spreading industry practices, such as processing ill cattle and housing poultry in filthy conditions, in secrecy, raising risks of food contamination.
“The ag-gag laws are touted as preventing animal activists from getting access to private places, but there’s a much broader concern the public should have,” said Elisabeth Holmes, a staff attorney at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. “Public health issues, food safety issues, environmental issues: all those things can be exposed through undercover investigations.”
The first-ever ag-gag prosecution, involving a Utah woman who took roadside videos of cows at a Draper City slaughterhouse, was announced this this week. Charges were soon dropped, but the incident hinted at a future in which farms are largely hidden from public sight.
Ag-gag laws were passed in Iowa, Missouri and Utah in 2011 and 2012, and submitted for consideration in ten state legislatures – Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Vermont – this year. Broadly speaking, they make it illegal to take photographs or videos without farmer consent, though some go further. Pennsylvania’s proposed law, criminalizes downloading such material over the internet.
“The only glimpse we get is when we see these types of videos. The industry loves to operate in secret.”…
Is it not a symptom of failed democracy when business interests are given higher priority than public safety?