(AG-GAG LAWS/FACTORY FARMING) IDAHO —  This week, in a major victory for factory farm animals, a federal judge ruled Idaho’s ag-gag law–which prohibits undercover investigations of agricultural operations–as unconstitutional.

The misguided law was passed last year in response to Mercy For Animals footage revealing horrific conditions and unspeakable cruelty to animals at an Idaho dairy farm.

This is the first major blow to similar ag-gag laws already on the books in a handful of other states including Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and eventually North Carolina.

Read on to learn more about this big win for animals, activists, and public health. — Global Animal

(ANIMAL ABUSE/AG-GAG LAWS)
Despite protests from animal rights organizations, Idaho Governor Otter banned the secret filming of animal abuse early last year. Photo Credit: thecontributor.com

Huffington Post, Amanda Hitt

An Idaho court found that agricultural whistleblowing is not a crime. Consumers who want to know the truth about the food system won a big victory this week against the culture of silence thanks to U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who struck down Idaho’s anti-whistleblower Ag Gag law. He ruled the legislation unconstitutional, stating:

The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.

The agriculture industry is not known for its transparency. But increasingly routine undercover investigations showing mistreatment of animals have inspired more public interest in how these operations run and what’s really happening behind the barn doors. Despite the public outcry, the industry hasn’t changed its behavior. Discovered and seeing a threat to their bottom lines, industry lobbyists have pushed state legislators to enact Ag Gag statutes that essentially make it a crime to report a crime.

Colorado dairy farm is being investigated for it's cruelty towards calves.
Ag-gag laws make it illegal to expose the activities of factory farms. Photo credit: foodnavigator.com

The Idaho law didn’t just try to stop undercover investigations; it attempted to silence the truth and truth-tellers – even whistleblowing employees. The Court mentioned an example of a dutiful employee witnessing malfeasance on the job: “If a diligent and trusted longtime employee witnesses animal abuse or life-threatening safety violations and records it without authorization, the employee could face up to a year in jail and be forced to pay damages…” Such a consequence would surely chill the speech of a would-be whistleblower grappling with whether to come forward with information.

Whistleblowers have never played a more important role in society. Their unparalleled access to information makes them critical in uncovering waste, fraud, abuse of power, and threats to public health and safety. They are in the unique position, as insiders, to detect, uncover, and alert the public to looming problems. Their importance is illustrated by the fact that federal laws protecting whistleblowers have more than doubled in the past 15 years.

But it’s not the same at the state level. States have been legislating for anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills in alarming numbers. Since 2012, 23 states have proposed such bills and five have adopted them. These Ag Gag laws reverse the federal trend toward protecting whistleblowers and vilify agriculture whistleblowers instead. Thankfully, the court in Idaho took note of this anomaly, stating that the legislation “discriminates on its face by classifying between whistleblowers in the agricultural industry and whistleblowers in other industries.”

cows, farm animals, dairy cows, cow, ag-gag, idaho, animal news, animal abuse, animal cruelty
In this Mercy For Animals footage, an Idaho dairy farm worker viciously kicks a dairy cow. Photo Credit: examiner.com

The Court also emphasized the utility of undercover video, often relied upon by whistleblowers who justifiably fear retaliation when going through internal channels to report wrongdoing.

Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored.

This pro-whistleblower decision is a significant win for everyone who cares about the state of the food supply, whether it’s food safety, animal welfare, worker rights, or the environment. The court in Idaho acknowledged that Ag Gag is nothing more than the industry’s attempt to stifle negative criticism, and that “food production is not a private matter.” Hopefully, courts deciding the constitutionality of Ag Gag in other states will agree.

More Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/food-integrity-campaign/idahos-anti-whistleblower_b_7935550.html

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS:

SHARE