Jolley: The insanity of ag-gag laws

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Salon magazine, that curious publication covering news, politics and entertainment (wait a minute, isn't politics news?) just published a story that should gag almost everyone who thinks ag gag laws are a great idea.  Writer Lindsay Abrams led with a paragraph about that infamous 2008 Humane Society video that exposed Hallmark employees using chains and forklifts to drag sick cows across the ground.

The video forced the USDA to order a recall of 143 million pounds of beef, the largest in U.S. history.  It was scandal and it was brought to light by an undercover whistleblower.  It wasn't the first time and it certainly won't be the last with the possible exception of nine states that have passed ag gag laws.  Videos taken without the farmer's permission in those states, even from across the road, can not be legally made public.

Abrams said Idaho's just-passed law, similar in content to the others, makes it "illegal for anyone not employed on the farms — and undercover activists don’t count — to make recordings of what goes on there without the owner’s explicit consent."

Will the animal welfare/rights folks figure out an end run around those laws?  Of course they will.  As proof, Abrams interviewed Will Potter, who calls himself an investigative journalist.  He's planning to do it with drones.  He's already 'crowdsourced' the concept and has the money to make it happen.

Potter says he has everything he needs to do an “aerial exposé”: drones, travel expenses, production costs for a planned documentary and e-book, and legal counsel. Lots of legal counsel, I expect.

He's talking drones, unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles, an eye in the sky.  And the best a farmer or rancher intent on maintaining his privacy can do is mistake that hovering object for a bird and hope it's duck season. 

You didn't think that an ag gag law, probably unconstitutional anyway, would stop the attack of the animal rights groups did you?  They are absolutely dedicated to what they do, convinced of the correctness and inevitability of their cause.  Most of them would willingly spend a few months in jail if the trade off was the release of some surreptitiously gained inflammatory footage.

The real damage done by ag gag laws is the sense that animal agriculture has something to hide.  To people who want to believe that animal agriculture is best represented by Hallmark videos, the passing of those laws is proof that this business is inherently bad and must be banned immediately.

It would be better to do what so many agvocates are advocating; open those barn doors and let everyone in.  Show them that the norm is not what Mercy For Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Liberation Fund claim.  Or you can hide behind ag gag laws and proclaim to an unbelieving world that you have nothing to hide. 

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Randy Janssen    
June, 26, 2014 at 05:19 AM

The problem with HSUS video's is in the editing. A good editor can make a harmless act look criminal. Then there is the fact that the HSUS has paid people to lie about animal abuse. These videos are shown to urban dwellers who have little or no contact with livestock who are shocked by some perfectly legitimate farming practices. They also have voiceovers that twist the truth and promote a vegan agenda. If you were dealing with honest people you would not need these laws, but the animal rights fanatics are more concerned with the shock value of the videos, then in telling the truth.

Kansas  |  June, 26, 2014 at 09:39 AM

Randy, you are correct. Many of the videos have been carefully edited for maximum shock value. Some of them are absolutely false. Unfortunately, some of them are not. It's the latter activity that keep people like Temple Grandin busy.

Bob Milligan    
Minnesota  |  June, 27, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Fantastic article Chuck! I have had the opportunity to participate in business seminars where experts assist executive of large corporations - oil companies, chemical companies, etc., understand how to best promote their corporate image. Your last two paragraphs clearly say what I heard in those seminars.

Ohio  |  June, 27, 2014 at 03:13 PM

You can not take a picture of my building - inside or out and publish it in a magazine or text book without my permission. The courts have ruled a person can not turn on the web cam on his own computer in his own dorm room while his room mate is there with his gay date. The courts have also ruled you can not take my picture or pictures of me and use them to make me a "Public figure" when I am not a public figure - regardless of what I am doing. Yet someone can publish a edited video of my operation which results in death threats to me and my family and may even cause me to loose my business without my permission. Someone needs to test taking and posting these videos in the courts. As for opening our doors - they already saw the video and know - they do not really want to come. Besides when doctors open the doors to delivery rooms, I will open the doors to my farrowing bar.

SD  |  June, 27, 2014 at 05:18 PM

Given the terrorism aspects of too many of the animal rights activists, aren't we right to be nervous about generous 'open door' policies? We truly are amazingly vulnerable to attacks which could actually harm our families as well as our businesses. How are we to protect ourselves while maintaining 'openness'? Another troubling aspect is the fact that many of those activist groups begin with the premise that animals have the same rights as humans and it is evil to use them for any purpose. How are food animal producers supposed to deal with those attitudes???? I see current article in the Dakota Farmer detailing how they are yet again using our churches in their attempts to sell their mantra to fellow Christians by turning them against all food animal producers on false claims about biblical teaching. We have quite a job ahead of us and I pray people figure out accurate counter programs to give consumers the FACTS about animal production and proper uses.

June, 28, 2014 at 10:41 AM

It is much too risky, suicidal even, for us to "open our doors" to animal rights zealots. These dangerous agenda-driven fools cannot be reasoned with. Simply because we cannot protect ourselves 100% of the time from them is no reason to surrender all to them. Let them fly their drones. Who cares, as long as we have some effective means of prosecuting them for illegal trespass, invasion of privacy or harassment? We absolutely need a few good strong enforceable laws on the books to protect our right to farm and our right to live our lives privately. We in agriculture always have been interested in how we can continue to make progress in the welfare of our animals and good honest observations have fueled that progress. These animal rights whackos aren't being constructive. In fact, it is their purpose to be as controversial and destructive as they dare. We need to limit them in how much damage they dare to do.

Texas  |  June, 28, 2014 at 11:56 AM

This post is an excellent excellent example of Ag industry propaganda. I don't normally post on the internet, but I needed to let you know that you should be ASHAMED. "These dangerous agenda-driven fools cannot be reasoned with." You come off more agenda driven, and significantly more dangerous. It concerns me that our Ag industry has a vested and ACTIVE interest in swaying public opinion on this topic. I don't care about animal suffering, to be honest. I care about keeping Auschwitz off my plate. That's my agenda. Your agenda is keeping the public blind to it to maintain whatever small industry profits you get. Lets recap: My agenda: Not eating rotting chicken Your agenda: Money "We absolutely need a few good strong enforceable laws on the books to protect our right to farm and our right to live our lives privately." The second I put the unsafe chicken you raise into my mouth, your entire work life becomes a matter of public safety. If you want to sell your chicken on the open market and introduce it into our food supply, WE ARE GOING TO CARE. If you want these things to stay private, keep your nasty Auschwitz chicken off the open market, and eat it only among your friends and family. Then we'd be square :)

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  June, 30, 2014 at 09:41 AM

Well, we can all tell that Jimmy is a city boy with issues. Jimmy, you don't want the chicken, don't buy it. Don't want me telling you what to do, right? And guess what, you can't tell me what to do, either. And is the marinade that makes it "Auschwitz chicken"?

MN  |  June, 30, 2014 at 11:59 AM

An effective way to deal with this would be to make it a criminal offense to obtain tangible evidence of what one believes to be animal abuse but not provide the unaltered evidence to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours of obtaining the evidence. AR militants say this would "interfere with [our] right to free speech." That's a spurious claim. I've never seen a version of such a bill that says, "Turn over your camera and film no more" or "you can't keep a copy of your film and release it yourself or give it to news media." IF the point of surreptitious filming were to prevent animal abuse (a premise I challenge) then the way to accomplish it is to *promptly* provide the evidence to those authorized to address the actions under the law. This is not accomplished by editing the film and/or keeping it under wraps for weeks or months until it can be released in coordination with the introduction of anti-animal-use legislation or a fund-raising campaign. If the film actually shows what the filmer (or his handlers) perceives to be animal abuse, withholding it from law enforcement allows the abuse to continue and exposes that the motive is not animal welfare. There is also the spurious claim that "we have to keep filming to show a pattern" and turning in the film prevents that. So film some more, and turn it in to LEO promptly. It's *their* job to determine when they have enough evidence to take action. If authorities don't find the practices unlawful and take action, and even if they do, the agitators are free to release the film, edited as they wish, when it best serves their purposes. The point is, if agriculture shouldn't "keep secrets" about how animals are kept, anti-animal-use militants shouldn't either.

kansas  |  June, 30, 2014 at 09:08 PM

Pound a fist Mr. Jolley. Point and laugh too, because you're absolutely right to declare ag-gag (too appropriate a name to be sure) a really, really ridiculous bad joke, that plays directly into the hands of our foes. While I can support upgrading laws to punish "activists", and anybody else, who fail to immediately report actual animal abuse, no freedom loving American should be caught within a mile of the video restrictions. They are stupid, counter-productive acts by well-intentioned but mentally challenged groups and individuals.

kansas  |  June, 30, 2014 at 09:18 PM

Godwining much Jim? Or have you simply slipped off your meds? "WE, WE, WE", you say WE repeatedly... so how many folks can you get into your mom's basement for the meetings? Let me know what day you and your fellow sufferers meet and I'll send over some folks that know something about Auschwitz to give y'all a lesson or two. Meanwhile, return to your "normal" state of not posting on the internet.

VA  |  July, 01, 2014 at 12:54 AM

In almost every country criminal acts which threaten the lives of people need to be prosecuted. In the USA, corporations are exempt from criminal deeds if they pay the government a fine. When thousands of Americans have died and are dying of bad medicines in the market pharmaceutical companies pay hefty fines and carry on. When oil companies pollute the natural habitat with oil leaks and kill employees in rig-fines are paid and everyone responsible is let off the hook. Similar with the fraud committed by lawyers and bankers in the 2008 Wall Street fiasco, nobody is in jail, millions of Americans went bankrupt. The Banks paid fines and all is well to continue cheating again. This mind set about capitalism and corporations is killing Americans all over. Now we have laws being passed so that we don’t know what bad food we are consuming. What kind of country have we become? Our law makers instead of protecting us are now making laws to hide true facts from us. We live in a developed country with 3rd world laws! The Supreme Court decided that companies can participate in elections as human beings and also they can have a religious point of view when it comes to contraception. Like the Lord, the Supreme Court has give life to corporations. What an insane decision. My simple argument is that capitalism must move with the times-its eating and gobbling up Americans-the middle class is gone, the 1%runs the show. Lobbyists who are generally would be arrested for corrupted practices overseas are revered in the United States. Lobbyism is CORRUPTION. That is why the legislators are being paid by big businesses in Agriculture for example to make these gag laws. We have lost democracy. Strange that someone who speaks out on criminal!

Kansas  |  July, 01, 2014 at 10:18 AM

It will be tested in court several times and I suspect it will ultimately land in the Supreme Court. Your refusal to open your doors is your right of course but the real harm can be done by a video crew doing a 'stand up' with your farm in the background and a 'talking head' suggesting some of the horrors you might be trying to protect.

Kansas  |  July, 01, 2014 at 10:22 AM

"We need to limit them in how much damage they dare to do." Exactly. By stonewalling them, though, you are giving them permission to paint animal agriculture as an evil, heartless enterprise. They are telling your story for you. If you want the truth to be told, you have to get out in front of these zealots.

Kansas  |  July, 01, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Jimmy, are you nuts? You have a vested and active interest in slandering something that you know nothing about other than what some very radical animal rights group told you. You should be ashamed of posting thoughtless rants without learning the facts, first.

Rascal Rick    
July, 02, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I have nothing to hide but I can't feel good about taking your advice to swing my barn doors open to one an all. But do feel free, Chuck, to invite vandals, thieves and arsonists into your own home and your own workplace. You may even insist each of them subject you to full enhanced interrogation and deep cavity searches, 'cuz hey, you're clean and you got nothin' to hide, right? Be a naive Polly Anna and trust every zealot and terrorist to treat you fair and square, if you like. Chuck, you just do that first, then let us know how it worked out for you before making sappy recommendations for us to forfeit the security of our farms and homes. Safety and privacy are just a couple of reasons - ever heard of biosecurity, Chuck?

July, 03, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Wow - you really have no idea what the Ag. Security law is trying to do. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with what we are supposedly trying to hide, vs. EVERYTHING to do with what we are trying to protect, our business and our livelihood. The people on other side of this issue have one hate driven agenda, put animal production businesses out of business, and use whatever means necessary to do so. To think that letting these people into our businesses to see what we are doing as "friends of the industry" is a joke, just like your article.

Ontario (Canada)  |  July, 03, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Maxine The challenge with developing such counter programs is the cost and the delivery. Here in Canada, most of our farm groups are operating on shoe-string budgets, and those with stable funding (mostly through checkoffs) are more engaged in matters pertaining to their rank-and-file members (as they should be, no question). We can't go to taxpayers and ask for government funding, so private sector sponsorship of an "information agency" is the only way. Yet credibility among a public already distrustful of government *and* corporations is waning. I've said for years that as a farm writer, I will happily front such an agency that provides Accurate, Balanced, Concrete (the ABCs of agriculture) information to consumers -if someone would fund it (I still have a mortgage to pay and groceries to buy). But who has *that* kind of money?

July, 03, 2014 at 08:48 PM

I don't eat much meat in the USA-90% of the meat contains medication that are meant to keep the animals healthy that will go into your liver. 90% of antibiotics produced in the USA goes into animals . When you get a massive heart attack-call 911. FDA is run by corporations. Better to eat vegetables-the food in the USA will never be accepted in Europe. Too many LOBBYISTS will tell you otherwise -best eat red meat less and if you need to NZ Lamb is the best!

People are animals    
July, 04, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Eat meat and hurt the planet. Chew on this:

usa  |  July, 04, 2014 at 03:45 PM

The fact is that animal-based foods are 100% unnecessary, always involve cruelty, and are much harder on the environment than plant-based foods. That is why they are doomed. In a generation or two, they will be gone. But not forgiven.

Suzana Megles    
Lakewood, Ohio  |  July, 04, 2014 at 04:26 PM

Interesting that the preponderance of comments are coming from men - probably the ones who own CAFOs which I'm sorry to say I always see as terribly cruel. In animal rights since 1978 I have been aghast at the cruelty we find in factory farms. Of course, I am vegan. Thank God for those brave people with videos cameras who have exposed terrible unfounded cruelty to the animals who are innocent and undeserving of harsh brutal treatment so many receive. I try to attend daily liturgy where I ask God to dismantle the CAFOs from hell and have the churches teach animal compassion.

AZ Rancher    
AZ  |  July, 04, 2014 at 05:02 PM

The point was NOT to "open the doors" to AR idiots with agendas, but rather to BE open to "the public." In other words operate as if a fair-minded person were watching - or one that can learn. Nobody is advocating inviting domestic terrorists or folks that already "know" we are evil in to "prove" their story. Rather it is about being willing to be open enough for regular citizens/customers/consumers to learn and see what real farming/ranching is. I agree with the editorial, these laws are an overly defensive maneuver that just makes us look like we have something to hide. Believe it or not, most people can learn the difference between real cruelty and good handling, and they can be taught critical thinking skills to help identify an actual news story as opposed to blatant propaganda from AR nut-jobs. The undercover work actually does have a positive effect on the way some of these shoddy companies handle animals. While the spies are often unethical in the way they go about things, sometimes what they uncover is worse. Let's clean house and "open the doors" so regular people can see who is actually full of manure.

Randy's Conscience    
Everywhere  |  July, 19, 2014 at 02:05 PM

Harmless to whom? The cow that is being slaughtered? Additionally, "Legitimate" is a subjective term. Be careful how you use it. If this is so "legitimate", why bar it being videoed? Why not host open houses if there's nothing to hide?


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