Vegetarians of Washington

Utah rules ag-gag law unconstitutional

The farm animals, and all those who care about them, just won a big victory in court. A judge in Utah has ruled that the ‘ag-gag’ law – which makes filming and photography to document abuse in animal agriculture illegal – is unconstitutional. US District Court Judge Robert Shelby claimed the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech. According to Amy Meyer, who filmed the abuse of a cow outside a slaughterhouse and was later charge with a crime, the court’s ruling is a “vindication for anyone who stands up for what’s right and tells the truth.”

Remember when educating people about their food choices was considered a good thing? Remember when whistleblowers were considered heroes deserving of extra protection? Unfortunately a number of states have introduced legislation that would keep the public from learning what happens on factory farms and slaughterhouses, and would criminalize the gathering of information through photography and video recording.

The animal agriculture industry obviously believes it has something to hide. In recent years, whistleblowing employees have repeatedly exposed animal abuse, unsanitary and disease promoting conditions, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems on industrial factory farms and slaughterhouses. The agribusiness industry’s response to these exposés has not been to work on preventing such problems from occurring in the future, but rather to try to prevent the American people from finding out about their wrong-doings in the first place. Some of these laws have quite the bite to them. For instance the Missouri ag-gag law imposes a 6 month – 4 years prison sentences on violators.

These laws are opposed by a rather diverse set of organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Natural Resources Defense Council and even the National District Attorneys Association.

Thankfully so far only Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, and North Dakota have successfully passed related ag-gag laws, and Iowa’s is currently being challenged.  Seventeen states have failed to pass proposed laws, and in three states such laws have been ruled unconstitutional.

While these issues continue to play-out in the nation’s courts, vegetarian food choices provide the healthiest, most compassionate and environmental sustainable way to go. While exposés and undercover videos can be effective in some cases in getting agribusinesses to change their practices, purchasing decisions will always speak the loudest in the food industry.