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In recent years undercover recordings of horrific abuses against animals have proven instrumental in prosecuting farms that, often systematically, mistreat their animals. But several states—ten in 2013 alone—have introduced anti-whistleblower bills that seek to make it a crime to document abuses of livestock, and aim to criminalize anyone who applies for a job in agriculture without stating ties they have to animal rights organizations.
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A number of recent cases have highlighted the importance of the undercover tapes recorded by activists and whistleblowers. After Mercy for Animals recorded gross mistreatment of chickens, including dead chickens left in cages alongside live birds, at an Iowa egg producer, McDonald’s and Target ended their contracts with the supplier, and several other grocery stores followed suit as the FDA launched an investigation. Meanwhile footage gathered by the Humane Society of a breeder dousing the ankles of horses in caustic chemicals in order to push the animals to have a higher gait prompted a federal investigation—one that prosecutors said could not have happened without the Humane Society’s actions and the evidence they obtained that was “instrumental to the case,” reports the New York Times.
And that’s just two cases of successful investigations by activists that has lead to meaningful change. The anti-whistleblower legislation, which passed in Iowa, Utah and Missouri last year, and has been introduced in various forms in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Vermont in 2013 alone seeks to curtail any such investigation. In instances were footage of abuses is obtained, some states list a provision that would require that the footage be turned over to authorities within 24-48 hours. Technically this allows for footage of illegal abuses to be obtained, but prevents any form of long-term undercover activist investigation.
The New York Times reports that supporters of the “Ag-Gag” bills claim that some videos show procedures that while shocking, are not inherently inhumane, while others have claimed that videos are made with the intent to encourage viewers to adopt a meat free diet—and in the process damage the reputation of the recorded farm. But the successful prosecutions that have resulted from undercover tapes provide evidence that such scrutiny serves a vital purpose within an industry that frequently encounters “weak or nonexistent regulation.” In Iowa, Utah and Missouri animal rights groups have been forced to reduce their activities, but in states where the bills have not yet passed activist groups are finding support not only from those who support their cause, but from those who fear that Ag-Gag laws would violate first amendment rights.
For links to the full text of the bills, see the Washington Post.