The old maxim that if you knew how sausage was made you would never eat it has been highlighted by many undercover videos taken by employees of factory farming operations and activists alike.
In response, the industry has increasingly lobbied for “Ag-Gag” laws that criminalize whistleblowing and undercover investigations, essentially rendering animal cruelty completely invisible.
Arguably, animal rights activists are the most tenacious; so much so, that they have routinely been labeled anarchists and terrorists by various governmental organizations the world over. Yet, beyond the general demonization campaign of anyone who professes sympathy for the proven suffering of factory farm animals, we arrive at much the same question asked by those who wish to know if their food has been genetically modified — Do consumers have the right to independently investigate the origin and production of the food they choose (and pay) to ingest?
The Big Ag lobby has countered investigations into animal cruelty and health hazards at industrial farm facilities with issues rooted in contractual agreements that bind employees to certain conduct, and the issue of private property rights.
Karen De Coster summarized the legal and moral issues very well when she stated:
Indeed, there is a libertarian case to be made for private property rights, and thus the owners of property banning the filming of their business matters – right or wrong – within the confines of their property lines. This is something the public has a tough time dealing with because the emotional issues (animal abuse, disease, and degrading quality food) override reason in terms of understanding property rights and non-aggression against those rights. For instance, these same people would never allow for “whistleblowers” to enter their home property to film so-called “inappropriate” goings-on within their home. But while it is libertarian, and perfectly reasonable, for a private food producer to disallow video and photography on private property, there is a larger, moral issue here. (source)
We initially reported on new legislation in early 2011, and said the following in regards to both morality and the clear health impacts of being kept in the dark:
Strangely, consumers may actually want to know if their meat is being electrocuted, beaten, or ground up alive as some recent videos have exposed. Consumers may also want to know what the animals eat, if they ever see sunlight, if they are injected with chemicals, or even genetically cloned. Since the FDA does little to shine light on these and other concerns, activists have been the only source of this information. Now, they will face jail time for doing so if this measure passes. (source, with some horrific videos)
At the time, we were focused only on new legislation being proposed for Iowa and the implication that other states might follow suit. In fact, Grist, published an article in May of the same year that suggested “Ag-Gag bills face tough row to hoe,” citing three states (Florida, Minnesota and Iowa) most likely to pass legislation, while New York was proposing similar criminal penalties for whistleblowing. The Grist article noted that all but Iowa were on shaky ground. Yet, so-called “Ag-Gag” laws have already been on the books for twenty years in Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota. The difference is that those earlier laws focused strictly on property damage, while the newer laws focus on undercover investigations and employee whistleblowing. (source)
Now we have reached a point where there is momentum toward enshrining complete secrecy surrounding what we already know to be a serious problem within some facilities. In fact, Grist offered an update to their above conclusion when confronted with the wave of new legislation by asking, “Will 2013 be the year of ag-gag bills?” The article shows how 2011 saw 4 states consider measures, followed by 10 in 2012.
For Duke Professor Purdy, it is a simple issue of transparency . . . and his solution would rid these facilities of pesky physical intrusions by activists. He has suggested the simplest of solutions to spur (and hopefully resolve) debate from both sides: the webcam.
Purdy acknowledges that fairness and safety are real issues. “So is transparency,” he writes, “and that is why we should require confined-feeding operations and slaughterhouses to install webcams at key stages of their operations. List the URLs to the video on the packaging. There would be no need for human intrusion into dangerous sites. No tricky angles or scary edits by activists. Just the visual facts. If the operators felt their work misrepresented, they could add cameras to give an even fuller picture.” (source)
Purdy recounts his full story about what led him to this suggestion in his New York Times op-ed piece where he recalls his visceral experience of entering a slaughterhouse in 1999 as part of an undercover investigation for The American Prospect:
The floor was slick with the residue of blood and suet, and the air smelled like iron. A part of my brain spent the whole time trying to remember which of Dante’s circles this scene most resembled. (source)
A scene straight from Hell that Big Ag would like never to see the light.
Would you feel more comfortable or less being permitted to view (in real time) where your food originates and how it is being handled? How do we resolve the right to know what we consume vs. the private property and contractual agreements of farming facilities?
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