Oklahoma State Veterinary Student Supports Transparency in Animal Agriculture

by Judith LaBounty

September 23, 2012

Abuse at Hallmark Meat Packing Company
"Ag-gag" bills would prevent undercover investigations—like the 2008 investigation of Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Californiathat have uncovered horrible abuse at animal agricultural facilities

"Ag-gag" is a name given to legislation that attempts to criminalize filming in an agricultural production facility. I believe that the veterinary community should resist this type of legislation. Such filming goes a long way to expose neglect and abuse in the industry. Animal advocacy groups that film animal abuse provide an important system of checks and balances on the animal agriculture industry. Without independent oversight, animal agricultural facilities are able to conceal abuse and neglect from the industry, veterinarians and the general public.

In March, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 589 into law which makes it a serious misdemeanor for a person to "obtain access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses" or "make false statements or representations as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility[.]" An earlier version of the bill, introduced in the Iowa legislature by Rep. Annette Sweeney and Sen. Tom Rielly, would have criminalized undercover filming in an animal facility. However, the Iowa Attorney General suggested that a ban on filming likely would be unconstitutional. As a result, House File 589 was changed to the form that Governor Barnstad signed into law. Similar "ag-gag" legislation is pending in other states.

Some argue that the general public can misinterpret the content of footage of animal agriculture. I agree, but this is due to the lack of education about animal agriculture. The general public learns about animal agriculture from the media, where it is often portrayed negatively. However, we cannot improve the image of animal agriculture by merely hiding abuse.

I believe that our profession should oppose the passage of legislation that reduces the transparency of our animal agriculture industry. Veterinarians have a duty to improve animal welfare, and state legislation like House File 589 prevents us from identifying facilities where animals are being abused or neglected.

Judith LaBounty

Judith LaBounty is in the class of 2014 at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.