Corporate farms are ratcheting up their efforts to keep their not-so-savory, and frequently illegal, business practices out of sight. Armed with a series of bills that aim to criminalize undercover investigations and whistleblowing, the industry is going state-by-state in an effort to stop animal cruelty investigations of food animal facilities. But by concealing dangerous operations that compromise animals, they also endanger food safety. Known as “ag-gag” or anti-whistleblower laws, these bills pose a major threat to consumers—especially to children and the elderly.
In the past, undercover investigations in large farming operations have exposed major food safety and public health concerns. Research has shown that stress caused by factors such as handling, overcrowding, and transport often leads to infections in animals, as well as an increased prevalence of foodborne pathogens like Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. In addition, undercover investigations have revealed the illegal slaughtering of downer cows, which are cows that cannot stand up due to illness or injury. These animals are ineligible for slaughter because of their increased likelihood for carrying diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalitis - commonly known as mad cow disease.
So why would anyone want to prevent these investigations? The industry argues that ag-gag laws, some of which have already passed in 6 states, are necessary to prevent attacks on factory farms by animal activists seeking to give the meat industry a bad name. One undercover investigation of animal abuse can be a PR nightmare for an offending plant and can cut into a company’s bottom line. In reality, the only players who stand to benefit from these laws are those with something to hide. Bad actors should not benefit from overreaching laws.
The truth? These investigations have proven hugely beneficial to the public. They have prompted major recalls of food destined for the school lunch program, exposed unnecessary cruelty in slaughterhouses, and have led to meaningful policy changes to protect public health. Not only do investigations expose food safety issues, but they reveal additional problems associated with industrial farming such as hazardous working conditions, inhumane treatment of animals, and environmental harm.
When it comes to what’s on our kids’ plates, no state should pass a law giving immunity from accountability for producing safe, wholesome food. Parents have a right to know where their family’s food comes from and how it was produced.
Legislatures around the country need to maintain a transparent system in which the public can be informed about issues that affect their food. Already this year, a new ag-gag law was passed in Wyoming. Other bills have been proposed in Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. If you live in one of these states, I urge you to contact your legislature and ask them not to support bills that could have disastrous effects on our food safety.