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Two crucial bills that would continue to protect the agribusiness industry in Minnesota and Florida have died a slow agonizing death, no pun intended. The “ag gag” bills in both states would have prohibited photography and video inside factory farms in an attempt to stop the undercover investigations by animal rights groups. Despite protest from the agriculture industry, the bills did not make it to the legislative floor for debate.
Animal rights advocates say the bills amount to an unconstitutional infringement on free speech that would have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers trying to bring attention to cases of animal cruelty. Supporters of the bill do not believe this is the case. “It’s aimed at people who are harassing and sabotaging these operations,” said Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton.”These people who go undercover aren’t being truthful about what they’re doing.”
Howard Goldman, Minnesota director of the Humane Society of the United States, called the bill and similar measures elsewhere, “an attempt to criminalize whistle-blowing at a time when we need more transparency about animal welfare, not less. It goes after people with a really broad brush.”
The House sponsor, Rep. Rod Hamilton, (R-Mountain Lake), made the old-standby argument that people who document animal abuse would be “guilty of abuse” if they don’t report it immediately to an operation’s owner, management or law enforcement.
Fortunately the public thinks we ought to know what goes down on these plants that produce our food. There are pending ag gag bills in other states including Iowa, even though only 21 percent of the population support it. Time and time again, despite the agriculture’s industry denial, the majority of people would rather pay more than have animals treated inhumanely.
Thanks to undercover video of the Humane Society in 2008, we saw the horrendous “downer” cows entering a food supply at the Hallmark slaughterhouse in California, which led to the country’s biggest ever recall of meat. Just last December, the Humane Society again exposed abuses of pigs at the Smithfield Foods. Pigs were never seen by veterinarians and were slaughtered even with disturbing growths and illnesses. They were confined in gestation crates and showed severe symptoms of distress such as biting the cage until they bled. Gestation crates are banned in the entire European Union and many fast food chains have eliminated or reduced their use of pork from pigs bred using gestation crates.
Iowa’s ag gag bill has passed the Republican controlled house and is currently pending in the Democrat-controlled Senate. An ag gag bill is also pending in New York where it has passed out of committee.