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Ag-Gag Laws: What Is Modern Agriculture Trying to Hide?

Story at-a-glance -

  • By making it illegal to take undercover photos or videos, requiring anyone applying for a job at a CAFO to disclose affiliations with animal rights groups, and other measures
  • Ag-gag laws are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg and dairy industries to essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs.
  • Five states have ag-gag laws already in place, and another 10 have introduced their own anti-whistleblower laws this year
  • Industrial food producers are also encouraging their “farmers” to change the terms they use for their horrific practices to less-offensive sounding words, such as swapping “gestation crates” with “individual maternity pens”
  • Corporations primarily use the CAFO system because efficiency and profits are valued above all else, even though this frequently violates natural laws and increases the risk to people eating the food they produce

By Dr. Mercola

Undercover videos filmed by animal rights groups have exposed some of the most inhumane and unsanitary agricultural conditions imaginable, being passed off as “concentrated animal feeding operations” (CAFOs).

At one egg producer, they saw overcrowding with up to 11 birds per cage, dead birds apparently left untended, and a severe fly infestation capable of spreading salmonella across the chicken population.

Another video showed “egregious violations” of federal animal care regulations by a meat packing company. The company allowed cattle that were too weak or sick to stand on their own to be slaughtered anyway… this led to the largest meat recall in US history.

In 2011, McDonald’s and Target said they would no longer purchase eggs from Sparboe Farms due to potentially unhealthy conditions discovered at Sparboe’s egg laying facilities by an ABC News “20/20” investigation.

This is just a short list of the abuses revealed – and the swift enforcement actions that often follow – by undercover footage.

The videos have given both lawmakers and the public a glimpse into an otherwise secretive world, and now the agricultural industry, rather than pledging to clean up their acts, is trying to make it illegal for undercover videos to be filmed at their industrial farms.

Ag-Gag Bills Seek to Keep You in the Dark About Where Your Food Comes From

Five states have so-called ag-gag laws in place, and another 10 have introduced their own anti-whistleblower laws this year. The laws, which are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg and dairy industries, would essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs by:

  • Making it illegal to take undercover photos or videos
  • Requiring anyone applying for a job at a CAFO to disclose affiliations with animal rights groups
  • Requiring activists to hand over undercover videos immediately
  • Requiring mandatory reporting with extremely short timelines so patterns of abuse cannot be documented

These undercover videos and revelations by whistleblowers are often the only glimpse that Americans get into the world of industrialized agriculture. But the industry knows that the more they see, the more uncomfortable people will become with supporting this broken system.

They could simply change their “farming” methods to those that do not abuse and neglect animals, and create extreme food-safety risks. Instead, they’re fighting to protect their cloak of secrecy. The Huffington Post reported:1

“In short, they're working to prevent Americans from finding out about animal abuse, rather than working to prevent the abuse. They may not be literally shooting the messenger, but they do want to imprison her.”

Big Agriculture Wants to Trick You by Sugar-Coating Their Image

It’s very common for industrialized agriculture to pawn off their modern-day torture chambers as idyllic family farms. Last year, for instance, the Pork Producers Council released a cartoon that made CAFOs look like wonderful places for animals and workers.

They say they put up "modern" barns to protect animals from harsh weather, illness and predators … which when translated to reality means the pigs never get to see the light of day, are packed in so tightly, living in their own feces, that illness runs rampant, and as for predators, well, the farm workers themselves are often caught in acts of abuse.

The Huffington Post2 recently highlighted a column by a pork industry veteran,3 which similarly advises pork producers to simply change the words they use to describe their horrific practices. For instance, he encourages calling gestation crates – two-foot-wide cages where breeding pigs spend nearly their entire lives, unable to even turn around – “individual maternity pens.” Other examples include “harvesting” animals rather than “slaughtering” and “environmentally controlled housing” in lieu of the confinement barns they really are.

It’s because of measures like these that even though most food comes from facilities that resemble factories rather than farms, many Americans still believe their food is grown on small family farms where animals are treated like living creatures instead of commodities. This is exactly what the pork producers and other industrial agribusiness giants want you to believe.

Because if you really knew where your pork, chicken, eggs or beef had come from, there's a very strong chance you would not only refuse to eat it, but would be incredibly appalled at the very thought. The Huffington Post continued:4

Big Ag is trying to do everything it can to keep Americans in the dark about how it abuses animals. Whether through ag-gag laws to prevent videos of animal abuse from surfacing or through playing the name game, this is an industry that knows it has a lot to hide.

After all, 'one of the best things modern animal agriculture has going for it is that most people... haven't a clue how animals are raised and processed,' wrote an editor of the Journal of Animal Science in an animal agriculture textbook. He aptly concluded, 'For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what's happening before the meat hits the plate, the better.'

Agribusiness Uses Intensive Lobbying, Strong-Arm Tactics to Control Government

You might be wondering how ag-gag laws could ever be signed into law, given their implications for public health and animal welfare, not to mention truthful journalism and the First Amendment. The fact of the matter is, like many other industries, agribusiness uses intensive lobbying, strong-arm tactics and other abuses of power to keep regulations well in their favor. As reported by Occupy for Animals:5

“Federal legislature currently forbids animal waste from being categorized as hazardous. In addition, on the economic level, many corporations are multi-state and can simply move to another state if local laws become too restrictive for their tastes.

Other strong-arm tactics include abuse of power at the highest levels, industry lobby money poured into political campaigns in exchange for less restrictive laws, control of academic resources, and delaying tactics. Perhaps the most damning example of political abuse is the ability of certain corporations to claim immunity to the federal Clean Air Act.”

The end result of these strong-arm tactics is an industry that releases more greenhouse gases into the environment than the entire global transportation industry, as well as produces significant drinking water contamination from the massive amounts of animal waste generated.

Yet, despite their destructive impacts on the environment, animal welfare and human health, the US government is continuing their history of supporting these industrial CAFO operations, both by looking the other way when abuse or contamination occurs, and by directly subsidizing cheaply produced beef, and corn and soy used for feed. As it stands, 2 percent of US livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals,6 and these large, corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses.

The only reason CAFOs are able to remain so "efficient," bringing in massive profits while selling their food for bottom-barrel prices, is because they substitute subsidized crops for pasture grazing. Corporations primarily use the CAFO system because efficiency and profits are valued above all else, even though this frequently violates natural laws and increase the risk to people eating the food they produce. The environmental assaults that follow are considered a cost of doing business, but as the documentary film River of Waste poignantly shared, we should perhaps be heeding this Native American Cree prophecy before it is too late …

“Only after the last tree is cut down, the last of the water poisoned, the last animal destroyed … only then will you realize you cannot eat money.”

Support the Food Producers Who Truly Have Nothing to Hide

You vote three times a day when you choose the foods you eat for your meals. Will you vote for the system that is systematically destroying your health, animal welfare and the planet ... or will you support those who are changing the world for the better, one meal at a time? There are basically two different models of food production today, and there's growing conflict between them. The first, and most prevalent, is the CAFO model that takes a very mechanistic view toward life, whereas the other — the local, sustainable farm model — has a biological and holistic view.

I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems. Whereas industrial agriculturists want to hide their practices from you, traditional farmers will welcome you onto their land, as they have nothing to hide.

Whether you do so for ethical, environmental or health reasons — or all of the above – the closer you can get to the "backyard barnyard," the better. You'll want to get your meat, chickens and eggs from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries... before it was corrupted by politics, corporate greed and the blaring arrogance of the food industry.

You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs. The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area, raised in a humane, sustainable manner.

Where to Buy Locally Grown Food Infographic