Commentary: Ag-gag bills do more harm than good

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My father once passed along a bit of advice he’d picked up during his lifetime: “Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want to see on tomorrow’s front page.” This has been much more helpful than my grandmother’s advice — “When in doubt, don’t” — as I can’t imagine anything worth doing that doesn’t fill most people with a bit of doubt. (Will I be effective in this new job? Is investing my time and energy in this relationship a good idea?) But the thrust behind both pieces of advice is similar: Think twice before painting yourself in a negative light. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of farm groups are doing with the recent slew of“ag-gag” bills.

The bills vary state by state, but in general they work to discourage the filming and release of another Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) undercover video highlighting animal abuse on a farm or in a processing plant.Legislation of this sort, proponents argue, simply mandates reporting to authorities any abuses seen. These people and groups prefer to call the bills “See Something, Say Something”legislation, arguing that this is, after all, in the animals’ best interest.

Everybody’s wrong. No one should abuse livestock (unless they want to be on the front page tomorrow — and thusly shamed — for having done so), but attempting to quash the exposure of this behavior and then saying you’re motivated out of animal welfare concerns is an invitation for HSUS and other groups to sow more public distrust of your organization.

Here’s a piece of advice I’ve picked up during my lifetime: “The best defense is a good offense.” Putting credits in the public’s trust bank — through telling your story over social media, holding farm tours and answering tough questions — is the only way you’ll get people to reserve judgment (or extend forgiveness) when accusations this sort are aired, via HSUS or otherwise.

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N Y  |  May, 31, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Smart advice Hilary ! The customer is always right , even when they're wrong . Farmers tend to want to hide all that they do , even when they are doing great , it's about being modest for the most part .

Gwen Lebec    
California  |  May, 31, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Animal ag should be trying to clean up facilities that don't meet the best practices of the industry - not fighting to allow them to continue to be cruel and often unsafe. The best way to do that is to pass laws that set required minimum standards and then to encourage and fund their enforcement. Every effort to protect the ability of bad apples to continue to be bad apples is a tacit approval of the worst behaviors. Even the best of farmers are clearly guilty of fighting to maintain ag's rights to mistreat animals horribly. All the pretty ads in the world don't count if a farmer or industry association won't support measures to improve farm animal care. Until the ag-gag laws started appearing I assumed that bad practices were rare. But clearly these are the real industry standards the industry wants to protect and all the "industry efforts" are just BS window dressing.

Washington  |  June, 01, 2013 at 12:20 AM

Gwen Labec said it all....And it's worth every farmer paying attention to. The consumer is definately becoming aware. No one is trying to destroy the farming industry--but a clean-up is a desperately needed measure. The cruelty fox has been in the hen-house for waaaaaay too long. Shame on the industry for trying to legislate the right not to be caught at these horrrific practices.

Bob Milligan    
Minnesota  |  June, 01, 2013 at 07:17 AM

Hilary, Great article! Thank your for taking a stand. I really like the way you made your point. In addition to your point that animal abuse should never be condoned, it is important to remember that consumer perceptions of acceptable animal care practices are evolving as our society changes. Every dairy farm business should 1) have respectful treatment of the animals as a core value, 2) include animal handling training in their training program(be certain to include explaining "why" in the training), 3) leaders who lead by example in being respectful to the animals, and 4) a farm business culture that ensures respectful practices are used 100 percent of the time.

PacNW  |  June, 04, 2013 at 03:18 PM

Producers should install Web cams throughout 100% of their facilities and have real-time public Web sites streaming the video 24/7. If you have nothing to hide, then show it.

Patricia Sadowski    
Milwaukee, WI  |  June, 19, 2013 at 11:53 PM

Farmers make choices and cleaning up the industry would be a smart choice. Hiding the truth is fruitless and passing laws to prevent the truth from being exposed is toooo funny. That would simply make heros of folks able to sneak in and document processing practices. It would also create a climate of false security for processors who would wrongly believe they were not being watched.

Patricia Sadowski    
Milwaukee, WI  |  June, 20, 2013 at 12:22 AM

Yes, open the doors and let everyone in. People need to trust the industry and ag gag laws o not create consume trust. After learning how animals are treated by some, I have stopped eating meat and fish completely. I will not purchase leather goods and have become an activist for animal welfare. I am trying to acclimate myself to become vegan and this ag-gag stuff is a great motivator because it screams loudly that animal abuse is not going to stop unless there is little demand for meat or leather. How can you expect consumers to react and then respond any other way? We are not accustomed to killing so have not become calloused to the horror of it. Humane slaughter (if the is such a thing) is bad enough but add cruelty and torture to it and you force people to respond. Big Agriculture is causing this entire problem and no one else is to blame. Consumers are now enlightened and that can not be undone by anyone or anything.

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