June 26, 2017
It’s been a few years now since I’ve last blogged about the once very hot topic of ag gag laws. The discussion stemmed from undercover animal rights activists gaining employment in a production agriculture setting and secretly filming things that were potentially staged by the activists themselves and then revealing them to the public.
The outcry from agriculture soon followed with producers arguing that these videos were an invasion of privacy and that the videos, which could be edited and dramatized to meet the activists’ agendas, shouldn’t be permissible evidence in a court of law.
If you want to read on the topic, you can check out previous BEEF blogs here:
While the discussion on ag gag laws have died down, the threat continues of activists trying to gain employment and cause problems at stockyards, dairy barns, hog units and other livestock enterprises.
This was even a discussion at the Livestock Marketing Association’s annual meeting in Montana a few weeks ago, with Kay Johnson Smith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance presenting a workshop with advice for how to avoid hiring one of these activist instigators.
In a recent webinar, Dave Aiken, University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural law specialist, shared updates on ag gag litigation in the U.S. today.
Heidi Carroll, South Dakota State University Extension livestock stewardship associate, recapped the webinar. Here is what you need to know about ag gag laws:
Caroll writes, “Over the last five-10 years, many animal activist groups have focused on increasing state animal abuse laws to not just improve animal welfare, but also encourage people to stop purchasing any products coming from animals. Now there is a shift in focus from this traditional platform to going straight to major retailers (McDonalds, Tyson, etc.) and pressuring them to establish and require humane husbandry practice standards for the livestock they purchase or own. Despite focusing more on the retailers, animal activist groups are still interested in the various ag gag or whistleblower laws that individual states may be introducing and passing to protect animal agriculture. Ag gag laws refer to state statutes that make it illegal for someone to come onto the property—often as employees who are undercover activists—and illegal to distribute the undercover videos they take of livestock treatment at farms and ranches. Though proponents of these laws typically refer to them as property protection acts.”
According to Aiken, “Less than 10 states have current laws in place protecting farms and ranches from potential undercover videographer attempts and falsifying information on employment applications.”
Carroll recaps, “One may wonder – why is there so much hype about these ag gag policies? Misconceptions regarding animal care practices have caused some people to believe that abuse of farm animals is occurring on a regular basis. Thus, these individuals desire more accountability and undercover videos are one way they believe to gain an ‘unbiased’ glimpse behind farm gates.”
As an industry, there are several legal challenges to establishing ag gag laws as they potentially violate the First Amendment (Freedom of Religion, Speech and the Press). However, Aiken says, “It is essential that agricultural groups be proactive regarding undercover videos. We need to stress the fact that any videos of improper animal care or handling do NOT represent the majority of animal caregivers and state how caregivers try to prevent abuse from happening.”
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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