Ag-gag update: constitutional challenge

It’s been awhile since I wrote about Ag-gag laws and their impact. (If you aren’t familiar with what they are, start here.) They’re back in the news again, after Idaho recently passed Senate Bill 1337, which makes it a crime punishable by imprisonment to photograph or videotape abusive, unsanitary or unethical activity on a farm. It was signed into law by Idaho’s governor on February 28, and Idaho is now the seventh state to have an active Ag-gag law.

Thankfully, a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety, filed a federal lawsuit in mid-March challenging the bill’s constitutionality. In the coalition’s rationale for the lawsuit, they question journalists’ free speech and freedom of the press rights. They also highlight the fact that now, Idaho more severely punishes the person who exposes animal cruelty than the person who commits it.

These laws don’t protect animals or even human beings and public health. They protect industry. Which we obviously value in this country, the way we protect large corporations in every way imaginable. 

It’s also important to point out that no one is asking these companies to allow someone to set up cameras 24/7 to document what happens in a slaughterhouse. We know what happens in a slaughterhouse. Slaughter. And the adage is probably true on some level that if we watched what happens in a slaughterhouse every day, we might all be vegetarians. Transparency in food doesn’t mean we need to see every single second of an industry’s work – that’s just absurd. 

The big issue here is that whistleblower protection is necessary. The photos and videos that these laws try to exclude are ones that show the company overstepping its legal bounds, not to mention ethical ones. A worker should feel safe in coming forward with legal or ethical concerns and allowing a journalist to do his/her work in documenting such items. These bills make it difficult to even get the evidence to law enforcement to spark an investigation before the person would be arrested under the Ag-gag law. 

Other industries can learn to get along with whistleblower protections. Industries that take money from the government, such as healthcare facilities, all must value whistleblower protections. You can’t be retaliated against in any way for exposing fraud or ethical/legal concerns and you are protected by the full extent of the law. This exists to make sure government dollars, and by extension, tax payer dollars, are spent wisely. So why not industrial agriculture? With the amount of subsidies and tax benefits these corporations receive, their workers should receive the same whistleblower protections.

We should not have laws in this country that forbid our citizens from exposing corruption, fraud, cruelty and abuse. We can’t claim to be the greatest, most free society on earth if we don’t.