US District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill
The farm animals badly needed this win. They have relied heavily on people documenting abuses on harsh “factory farms” and in the slaughterhouses, but a new law in Idaho would have made this illegal leaving the animals defenseless. So animal welfare groups cheered the decision on the Idaho law last week from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The judge found the state’s “Agricultural Security Act” unconstitutional for criminalizing certain types of speech. This would have not only criminalized legitimate reporting by the news media and advocacy groups, they would have also criminalized whistle-blowing conducted by conscientious workers.
What about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books? Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have also made it illegal for workers and activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations. A new North Carolina law goes into effect in January 2016. But now those laws’ days could be numbered, according to the lead attorney for the coalition of animal welfare groups that sued the state of Idaho.
Had these laws gone into effect it’s not only the animals who would be hurt. As we have previously reported, abuse of slaughterhouse workers is also all too common. While reporting abuses is very valuable, it is still better to prevent them in the first place and the best way is through a healthy and oh so delicious vegetarian diet.
A new hotline (1-888-209-7177) was just launched by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) so that workers can more safely document the abuse of animals.
As the old saying goes, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians.” The slaughterhouse operators know this better than anyone, which is why they have pushed “ag-gag” laws through in a handful of key states. These ag-gag laws prevent the documenting of abuse by criminalizing undercover investigations of agricultural facilities. We have previously reported on the plight of both farm animals and workers in the nation’s slaughterhouses. While horrible conditions persist, the public is kept in the dark.
“The bleak conditions endured by animals on factory farms are often made worse by overt violence and neglect,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the HSUS. “Pigs are often beaten. Chickens are stomped on. Lame cows are left for dead. We want whistleblowers to know that help is just a phone call away.”
To tackle this problem, the HSUS established a hotline for reporting cruelty and neglect on factory farms, at livestock auctions, and in slaughterhouses. This will empower employees at those facilities who have witnessed cruelty or other unlawful acts.
The HSUS offers whistleblowers a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who have committed acts of cruelty to farm animals. Hotline callers will be assured anonymity if they desire it. The HSUS will work with the United Farm Workers to distribute information about the hotline to workers at factory farms, slaughterhouses and livestock auctions.
We applaud the HSUS for their new program and all those who have the courage to call it. Of course, the best way to end the harsh conditions and frank abuse in animal agriculture is simply to go vegetarian- a move the HSUS enthusiastically endorses.
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 Iowa, Utah, and Missouri have passed the proposed ag-gag laws, while states such as New York, Illinois, Florida, Nebraska, Tennessee and Indiana have declined to enact these laws. In some states, such as Minnesota, a decision is still pending.
In the meantime, 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.