Ag-gags, a term coined by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, are laws created to limit the frequency of whistle-blowing activities. Generally, these laws criminalize filming or photography activities on farms or other agricultural sites without the consent of their owner.
Animal rights activists have a long history of going undercover on farms or other agricultural processing centers to document animal abuse or other acts that violate agricultural standards. Under the guise of protecting the agricultural industry from undue negative backlash, some states’ legislators have taken it upon themselves to ban people from investigating or recording these activities without strict permission.
Even if you eat meat —as I do — the unethical production and processing of animals is cruel. Agricultural standards have been passed for a good reason. Yes, these animals will ultimately be eaten, but that does not justify utter abuse.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund reported thousands of chickens have been left to starve to death. Pregnant pigs have been left in crates too small for them to turn around. If you aren’t concerned with animal welfare, these laws prevent people from investigating food safety and environmental standards which can affect people and the environment.
This functionally legalizes animal abuse. If animals are forced to give their lives for our dinners, they deserve basic dignity at the very least. Animals are being beaten and abused, and many states would rather the general public be deprived of this information. Anyone who works in the agricultural industry or consumes meat is at risk because of these laws. Labor rights violations put workers in danger. Food standard violations risk public health.
In the United States, we are guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Profit margins do not trump our rights to speak our mind and spread factual information. Gagging those brave enough to put themselves in danger to expose illegal behavior shouldn’t be what Big-Ag needs to be protected from public backlash. Our freedom of speech is more important than their desire to maintain an ethical façade.
Whistle-blowers are only required when industries put profit above safety. Banning whistleblowers allows companies to take advantage of animals, human and common decency in the name of profit margins. Animals will continue being abused before they are killed and humans face real health risks if whistleblowers are not allowed to expose illegal activities.
This isn’t a question of whether or not meat is ethical — it’s a question of whether or not we trust the agricultural industry to protect its customers from risk in good faith. These laws wouldn’t even be a thought on anyone’s mind if that were true.
Holly Baer is a senior religious studies major from Flowood.