Ag-gag laws are laws intended to prevent whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty on farms. Reporters have noted that some of these laws could also be used to criminalize anti-fracking activists, or those who protest the drilling of shale oil and gas using the radical and polluting hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" technique. The term "ag gag" for the laws was coined by Mark Bittman in an April 2011 New York Times column. Bills to ban photographing or videotaping animal enterprises without the owners' or managers' consent or to restrict investigation of animal cruelty or safety were proposed or are active in Idaho (passed, signed), Arizona, Indiana and New Hampshire in 2014.
A coalition of journalists and organizations dedicated to civil liberties, animal protection, food safety, labor rights, and the environment today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s new "ag gag" statute. The law was signed by Idaho governor C.L. "Butch" Otter on February 28. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety. Idaho is the seventh state to pass an ag gag law, and the first to do so since 2012.
The U.S. Constitution protects free speech and freedom of the press, including journalistic exposés of industrial animal production. Like other ag gag laws, Idaho’s statute criminalizes whistle-blowing investigations at factory farms, and specifically targets animal advocates who expose illegal and cruel practices. Idaho’s ag gag law makes it illegal for anyone to take photos or videos at a factory farm or slaughterhouse without the owner’s express consent. If convicted under the ag gag law, a whistle-blower would face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. By comparison, the maximum jail term for a first-offense conviction of animal cruelty in Idaho is six months. In other words, Idaho more severely punishes those who expose animal cruelty than those who commit it.
In the last decade, animal protection advocates have conducted more than eighty undercover investigations at factory farms in the United States, virtually all of which would be criminalized by the Idaho statute. One recent PETA investigation revealed multiple beatings of pigs with metal rods and workers sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces. A supervisor was filmed kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move and told the investigator, "Make her cry." The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s law silences would-be whistle-blowers by intimidating journalists and activists from exercising their First Amendment rights.
"The Idaho law is deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech. It even would criminalize a whistle-blower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace," said Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. "I am confident that this law will be struck down under Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedents."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are ALDF, PETA, ACLU, CFS, Farm Sanctuary, Farm Forward, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE), Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research and Education (IHCIRE), River’s Wish Sanctuary, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Western Watersheds Project, journalist Will Potter, undercover investigations consultant Daniel Hauff, investigator Monte Hickman, Professor James McWilliams, investigative journalist Blair Koch, and the political journal CounterPunch.
A copy of the complaint is available at:
Slow Food USA Campaign
To challenge the so-called "ag-gag" laws, Slow Food USA asked its members to become the "farmarazzi," visiting farms, chatting with the farmer about the proposed bills, and then taking and posting pictures of the farm on Slow Food USA's Facebook page. Additionally, Slow Food USA asked members and supporters to sign their petition opposing the bills.
- "We live in a time when we’re not always aware of where our food comes from and how it grows. The bipartisan legislators in Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota who’ve proposed these laws charge that unapproved photos and videos misrepresent the realities of farming and damage the public perception of our nation’s food producers. But pictures don’t lie. Inhumane and unhealthy conditions are present in our food system, and keeping that information from the public won’t make them go away. We must come together nationally to stop this dangerous precedent of suppressing outrage against bad farming practices by suppressing the public’s right to see what they’re eating.
- "Even more outrageous is that the pending laws apply to photos of all farms—even those upholding good, clean, and fair farming practices. So how can we convince these legislators that they’re wrong? By sending a petition to the key legislators in each state, and also by flooding their offices with photos of real farms, submitted by people like you, from all around the country. Let’s show those lawmakers that we, the Farmarazzi, are taking a stand to safeguard our right to know what goes on behind closed barn doors."
Idaho Ag-Gag Commercial by Humane Society of the United States: