HSVMA Opposes “Ag-Gag” Laws in Order to Preserve Public Scrutiny of Food Safety, Animal Health and Handling on Industrial Farms

April 11, 2012

Originating from an agricultural industry that badly needs a welfare overhaul, the overreach of ag-gag laws is an unmistakable sign of panic. These laws—unconstitutional as they may be—make it possible for the industry to continue misleading the public, abusing animals, evading laws and threatening public health. Ag-gag legislation is the agribusiness solution to its very own animal welfare problem; a problem it obviously considers too inherent to change, too damaging to be seen, and too impossible to defend. 
–Deb Teachout, DVM, MVSc, HSVMA Illinois member

HSVMA urges veterinary professionals to join in opposing the so-called "ag-gag" laws—legislation being proposed in states across the country that seek to criminalize animal abuse investigations, and suppress the whistle-blower release of critical information about the making of animal products at agricultural facilities. This legislation poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of industrially-farmed animals.

Downed Cow – 2008 Calif. Investigation
Using a forklift to force downed cows onto their feet was just one of many abuses documented in the 2008 undercover investigation of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company in Southern California.

In recent years, whistle-blowing employees have repeatedly exposed animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, public health violations and environmental problems on industrial or factory farms. For example, a 2008 investigation of a slaughter plant in southern California, conducted by The Humane Society of the United States, prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history. In that case, rampant animal abuses were documented at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company, a major beef supplier to the National School Lunch Program.

Since then, numerous other chilling exposés have emerged. HSVMA Leadership Council President Dr. Holly Cheever notes that, "The footage I have reviewed from multiple undercover investigations has all featured distressingly brutal and illegal cruelty to food animals. The handling of the animals and of the meat products derived from them raises serious questions about potential public health threats as well."

The "ag-gag" laws vary in language. Examples include banning photo-taking or videotaping at an agricultural facility, banning the simple possession and distribution of such photos or videos, making it a crime for undercover investigators to gain employment at factory farms, and requiring the mandatory reporting of alleged violations within unreasonably short timelines. Despite variation in legislative language, the intent of every ag-gag bill is to shield animal agribusiness from public scrutiny by punishing whistle-blowers and insulating animal abusers from prosecution.

Dr. Cheever continues, "Ag-gag bills are the antithesis of our heritage as Americans. To make whistle-blowing illegal is to stifle the very freedoms upon which this country was founded…We would all be better off if agribusiness turned their enormous resources to addressing and correcting these problems rather than proving how much they have to hide by pouring resources into obscuring evidence of their animal cruelty."

In 2011, four states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York) introduced ag-gag bills, but due to public outcry, not a single bill passed. So far in 2012, ten ag-gag bills have been introduced—four died (Florida, Illinois Indiana and Tennessee) and four remain under consideration (Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and New York). And, unfortunately, last month the governors of Iowa and Utah both signed ag-gag bills into law.

HSVMA has joined a national coalition of public interest groups in signing a statement opposing ag-gag laws proposed around the country. The statement, designed to collectively combat these harmful proposals, was spearheaded by a number of animal welfare organizations including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Farm Sanctuary, In Defense of Animals, Mercy for Animals and The HSUS. In addition to animal organizations, the coalition includes groups representing civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, law, workers’ rights and First Amendment interests.

If you are a resident of one of the states with an ag-gag bill pending—Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska or New York—it is critical that you contact your state legislators and voice your opposition, emphasizing that you are both a constituent and a veterinary professional. It is also essential that anyone who is concerned about the welfare of animals be made aware that ag-gag legislation may be re-introduced in any state where previous bills have died, or may be introduced in other states around the country.

Visit the HSUS website for the latest updates on ag-gag legislation and to read a copy of the HSVMA opposition statement on this issue.