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Letter From The Editor: Ag-Gag

Ignite a fire at a mountain-top restaurant, blow up a commercial radio tower, steal or turn livestock loose–even those mean little minks–and I am all for hunting down the perpetrators, arresting, charging and convicting them with multiple crimes already on the books.

State and federal laws already adequately cover property crimes like those committed by the few extremists that the law has also accurately labeled as domestic terrorists.  

And should ever one of these despicable incidents result in injury or death, those crimes will be charged, too.

The “Ag-Gag” bill passed by the Iowa Assembly last week has nothing whatsoever to with those rare but disturbing instances of domestic terrorism.

Aptly named by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, the “Ag-Gag” bill exists because people with “home court” political power (Iowa Animal Agriculture) have been made to look stupid time and time again by “out of town” political power (animal rights activists).

Just think of how this goes.  An undercover investigator arrives in an Iowa town near one of those giant egg production facilities or big hog operations.  Iowa agriculture is always hiring, the only requirement is that you must be able to “fog a mirror.”

There were complaints in Des Moines about undercover investigators not telling the whole truth on job applications.  But I doubt much information had to be provided on those applications.  

If Iowa agriculture gets too thorough in that department, it would know all those Spanish speaking fellows they’ve been hiring might be illegal.

The worst part is the guy driving the $200 Buick that they’ve just hired has $30,000 worth of camera equipment in his trunk.  And they did  not have a clue.  They look and feel pretty stupid when the movie, showing incidents of animal abuse inside another Iowa facility, hits the internet.

And while no law is going to make Iowa agriculture look smart on this one, it most certainly is reacting to the fact that it’s been made to look stupid time and time again.

I generally try to avoid terms like “factory farms” and “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” because they are politically loaded.  But the scale of many Iowa agricultural operations is so large it is hard not to rely on some of these terms.

Those giant Iowa egg production facilities that were responsible for the nationwide Salmonella outbreak in 2010, resulting in a half billion eggs being recalled, come to mind.  

Hundreds of people come and go through those facilities.  There are the employees, of course, but there are also people doing contract services and making deliveries, and literally dozens of people with access.

The “ag-gag” law Iowa has passed makes it a crime for any of these people to take pictures or make recordings without the permission of whoever owns the animal or crop facility involved.

The Iowa bill is getting widespread attention now because Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law, and it is the first in the country with a bunch of states are waiting in the wings with their own “ag-gag” bills.

As Iowa’s newest law, it stands as testimony to raw political power.   A “Who’s-Who” of the state’s agriculture lobby came to gather to make it happen in a matter of hours.

That is really the bad news in all of this.    

These undercover investigations by animal rights groups have emerged not only with evidence of severe cruelty, but real food safety risks.  If it goes along with this political scheme to cover it up, Animal Agriculture is going to lose–and lose big.

Ag-gag is really a big set-back for Animal Agriculture, which must earn public trust by throwing open the doors of “factory farms” and “CAFOs.”  Putting  its own cameras inside these facilities might help prevent bad behavior.

For now, we have to assume that all those big name Iowa Ag lobbyists are doing what Animal Agriculture wants them to do.  That being the case, this is going to get worse before reason prevails.

© Food Safety News
  • Twilight …def. – “The period of the evening during which this takes place, between daylight and darkness.”
    “Our rulers make the news, but they do not appear in the news, not as they really are-not as a political class, a governing establishment, a body of leaders with great and pervasive powers, with deep, often dark, ambitions. In the American republic the fact of oligarchy is the most dreaded knowledge of all, and our news keeps that knowledge from us. By their subjugation of the press, the political powers in America have conferred on themselves the greatest of political blessings-Gyges’ ring of invisibility. And they have left the American people more deeply baffled by their own country’s politics than any people on earth. Our public realm lies steeped in twilight, and we call that twilight news.” —Walter Karp
    Total “Darkness” shall be upon America soon!
    cowbossatwscc

  • Will

    This law protecting well-intended employers from ill-intentioned imposters is a sensible step forward for Iowa’s largest and most important industry. Certainly no surprise to hear so much moaning and whining from skulking shills of the small farm/anti-agriculture lobby. We need more laws to make hateful scabs responsible for their actions. We don’t see lying antagonists infiltrating other legitimate industries, setting up sick ‘gotcha’ scenarios, proudly starring as accomplices, gleefully filming and publishing them to global audiences.

  • Peter F.

    Reminds me of the old show Candid Camera except that was a harmless practical joke. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to have a paid troublemaker pretending to be a co-worker, snooping and posing and filming in my work area around here. There’s nothing going on but still I wouldn’t care to have edited film clips popping up all over YouTube. The practice is definitely a nuisance and deliberately damaging. I would want to have the rascals arrested but that’s just me — maybe activist operatives are welcomed in your workplace? Smile, it’s Candid Camera!

  • JC

    Ag Gag legislation is just one of many reasons why the number of vegans has doubled in the US in less than 3 years. Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org

  • Amanda Katz

    A coalition of groups has put together this petition responding to the ag-gag law in Iowa. Please sign it to pledge that you will not buy any meat, milk or egg products from Iowa, and you will ask your grocers and restaurants to do the same. Then please help us share it all over the internet!
    https://www.change.org/petitions/take-the-pledge-boycott-iowa-the-ag-gag-state

  • ecofood

    The well-intentioned employers are defined as such by a sick notion that anything that is profitable and legal is a good thing and deserves to be protected from view. I hate surveillance and live near too much of it, but who is protecting me from cameras while I drive to work and take my kids to the park?
    The employers are doing things that most people will consider unethical when they see it! And the ag-gag allows them to continue in darkness. A useful answer (aside from ceasing to eat meat) would be open doors on all of these operations, and let the people decide.
    I’d wager that inside of two years we would all beg to pay $3 for a dozen eggs. (That’s $1 less than many pay now for the best ones.) It would be the going price because nearly all farms would convert to more ethical practices and you could NEVER find eggs for a dollar per dozen again. Such low prices are the result of mistreatment of animals and people and no poultry operation would want to admit that they ever behaved that way.
    So there is the answer; profits for good American sweaty work, nutritious, ethically raised food, and a happy, healthy consumer. Producer only farmers markets are the real American way. And we can only have them if they are profitable for real food farmers (not commodity growers). ef

  • Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
    This is really just a backlash against the marketing blinders factory farming has used so successfully for years. Eventually, someone was going to want to see if the picture of happy cows from California was real, or if the eggs really came from Happy Hens.
    The marketing of agricultural products has encouraged an ignorance of farming practices so is it any surprise the shock and disgust the public feels when being slapped in the fact with the worst realities? If you’re so proud of your methods, why hide them? You’ll have supporters who want cheap eggs, milk & meat anyway.
    Yes, fanatic animal welfare are attracted to this type of mission, just like there are some real atrocities against workers and animals taking place on the worst “farms”.
    A middle road needs to be reached, and providing legal secrecy to protect horrifying industries is not a positive, proactive action. Wait for the PR backlash when you have to start sending people to jail for their movie-making…
    Every industry is subjected to filming these days. Don’t like it? Try being a cop for a month.

  • Ciarrai

    Here’s a great bumper sticker: Iowa, the state that abuses animals. You know, Dan Flynn has a good point. Another allied point has to do with the fact that now that you won’t allow those cameras in to see the brutality of the operations and the additional abuse of the sadists that work in the biz (see Billy Joe Gregg from the Ohio dairy from a couple of years ago). So, meat consumption is down 12% in the last 5 years and it will plummet in the next years. Ag has itself to blame, along with the realization that eating meat is not healthy. Finally, a pox on Gov. Terry Branstad and all of the people of the factory farm industry, CAFO’s who treat the animals so badly. “Vengeance shall be mine, saith the Lord”. Judgement Day will not go well for all those who have done harm to animals.