Utah this week became the second state to impose criminal sanctions against anyone taking photos or making videos inside factory farms without permission.
Coming less than a month after Iowa became the first state to adopt a so-called “ag-gag” law, the Utah bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert is designed to thwart animal welfare groups that have planted employees inside big farms to document incidents of animal abuse.
A second ag-gag state puts the nation’s animal welfare groups on the defensive in their campaigns against cruelty.
Food safety often benefits from those campaigns. Animals under the severe stress of cruelty are more susceptible to disease and pathogen infections and are not supposed to end up as human food.
If Iowa-Utah style anti-video laws has been in effect in California four years ago, the nation’s school children might still be eating ground beef from a Chino packing plant that was found using incredibly cruel methods to force sickened “downer” cows through to slaughter.
Instead, the undercover work by the Humane Society of the U.S. resulted in the largest beef recall in history and stopped future sales to the National School Lunch program.
Both the Iowa and Utah ag-gag laws were adopted after lobbying by major farm groups. In Iowa, a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics also found that big farm groups were major contributors to key lawmakers supporting the bill.
The Utah Farm Bureau told local media the public has not benefited from animal welfare group’s clandestine videotaping. Any animal abuse or wrongdoing should just be reported to local law enforcement, according to UFB.
The Utah ag-gag law makes any violation a Class A misdemeanor with the possibility of up to one year in jail for each offense. As originally drafted, the bill would have made repeat violations felonies.
Nathan Runkle, who heads Chicago-based Mercy For Animals, said the new law makes Utah “a safe haven for animal abuse.”
Actress Katherine Heigl, a Utah resident, tried without success to persuade Beehive State lawmakers to vote against the bill.
Similar bills were rejected or allowed to die in Florida, Indiana and Illinois. Such measures remain a possibility in almost a half dozen other states, including Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, and Tennessee.
With the exception of New York’s session, legislatures in other states that might consider anti-video bills this year are scheduled to adjourned in the next month or so.
Parts of the ag-gag laws will likely be challenged in federal courts. And a new Oregon group has stepped forward promising to head up the opposition to farm video bans as part of its mission to end factory farms, period.
“‘Undercover investigations are an essential part of reforming factory farms, but agribusiness is working to make them illegal,” said the advocacy group Farm Forward, which just launched ag-gag.org, where users can register their opposition to such state laws.
Like shooting wars, legislative wars do tend to escalate.