What’s going on with U.S. “Ag Gag” laws? Back »

2017 Animal Care Wednesday Webinars
Husbandry Practices in the Spotlight

During the April 5th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar, we received updates regarding “ag gag” litigation in the United States. Dave Aiken, Agricultural Law Specialist with University of Nebraska-Lincoln, discussed the most recent farm animal legislation trends and cases, which states are involved, and considerations for the sensitive topics. It is important for us in animal agriculture and producing food to stay up-to-date on the various laws that impact everyday animal care practices and the safety of our livelihood – caring for animals responsibly.

 “Ag Gag” Laws: An Overview

Over the last 5-10 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 litigation 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.

State Laws

Aiken provided a great introduction to the national scope of “ag gag” litigation. Less than ten states have current laws in place protecting farms and ranches from potential undercover videographer attempts and falsifying information on employment applications. Animal activist organizations continue to track each state’s litigation outcomes (maps aren’t completely up-to-date).


Figure 1. Data from Last Chance for Animals, accessed April 7, 2017.
 


Figure 2. Data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), accessed April 7, 2017.
 

Undercover Videos: Pros & Cons

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 is one way they believe to gain an “unbiased” glimpse behind farm gates. However, Aiken presented some pros and cons to these undercover videos and the ag gag arguments.

Pros:

  • If abuse is occurring, undercover video operations may be the best way to reduce the incidence of abuse.
  • Raw, unedited footage of video could be reasonable evidence for potential investigations – must be raw footage and turned over to authorities in a timely manner.

Cons:

  • Videos are embarrassing to agriculture.
  • Undercover employees are operating under false pretenses.
  • Activists may instigate the abuse.

Legal Challenges

The legal challenge to trying to establish ag gag laws is that they are viewed as potential violations of the First Amendment – Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press, which is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights within the United States’ Constitution. “It is essential that agricultural groups be proactive regarding undercover videos,” says Aiken. “We need to stress the fact that any videos of improper animal care or handling does NOT represent the majority of animal caregivers and state how caregivers try to prevent abuse from happening.” To learn more about the Idaho undercover video case that began back in 2012, listen to the full presentation by accessing the recording at the animal care resource website. This and past webinars and presentation handouts can all be accessed here.

For questions regarding agricultural laws, please contact Dave Aiken.

Animal Care Wednesday Webinars

For more information about upcoming Animal Care Wednesday Webinars, please contact Heidi Carroll. To join Animal Care Wednesday Webinar webinars, log in to the Zoom Meeting a few minutes prior to the start of the webinar.

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