Beware: Ag-gag is a Big Drag – For Everyone

penny circleWhat do photographers and lawyers have in common? At first blush, not much. Photographers are artists, a profession we associate with bohemians and dreamers. Lawyers, on the other hand, tend not to be a group of people that we would classify as “free spirits.” Humorless vulture is a more apt description. But animal protection attorneys, photographers, and videographers have seen their paths intersect in recent years due to the disturbing rise in “ag-gag” laws. And it’s not just these groups, ag-gag laws violate everybody’s civil liberties.

“Ag-gag” refers to laws intended to keep the cruelty that occurs in factory farms secret. It’s an umbrella term to cover a variety of laws that prohibit filming or photography on farms but includes any laws intended to stop undercover investigations on commercial farms. Another common ag-gag law mandates that animal cruelty be reported immediately after witnessing it to prevent prosecutors from establishing that the cruelty is part of a larger pattern rather than the result of a single disgruntled worker. Some legislators have even introduced ag-gag laws that prohibit photos taken from a public street.  It’s a wet blanket on undercover investigation and journalism.

Across the board, these laws almost surely violate the First Amendment. Two years ago, a coalition of animal protection groups led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, and the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit alleging that Idaho’s ag-gag law was unconstitutional (read the original complaint here). In August of 2015, a federal District Court in Idaho determined that Idaho’s ag-gag law violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Specifically, the court found that the law was specifically targeted at animal protection advocates, in violation of the Equal Protection clause.

Ag-gag laws have sweeping repercussions across society beyond animal protection. These laws impact food safety, workers’ rights, and free speech. Such obstruction endangers not only millions of animals but also human health, safety, and the environment. Factory farms aren’t just hiding animal cruelty, undercover investigations have filmed violations of federal environmental laws, food safety laws, and labor laws.

So why do legislators keep introducing and supporting these laws? They started popping up in response to animal rights organizations who publicize footage of the systematic cruelty in farms that process animals for human consumption. No need to mince words. These laws were passed solely to stop groups from educating the public about factory farms. Ag-gag laws are a desperate gambit by the agricultural industry to stanch the public’s growing concern for animal welfare.

Animal protection organizations have made great strides using undercover footage. While advocates have decried factory farming for decades, video footage obtained in undercover investigations is galvanizing the public. Big agriculture knows the old adage that a picture is worth a 1000 words, so they’re doing everything they can to stop those pictures from reaching citizens. Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection for The Humane Society of the United States, sums it up, “These draconian bills to silence whistle-blowers show just how far the animal agribusiness industry is willing to go, and just how much the industry has to hide.”[1] Just a few of the incidents that undercover investigators have filmed include cows’ heads being bashed in with pickaxes, pigs sodomized and beaten, and chicks ground alive. It’s the stuff of horror movies.

For All Animals is working to combat animal cruelty through every means possible, whether it’s with a video cameras or a lawsuit. Be on the lookout for more information about ag-gag laws and ways you help defeat them soon.

Watch undercover videos shot by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and edited by For All Animals:



Liz CircleElizabeth ‘Liz’ Holtz is For All Animals’ director of legislative affairs. She is an animal rights attorney and lifelong animal advocate. Liz manages  For All Animals’ coalition efforts to pass state laws that protect animals—like strengthening anti-cruelty laws—and defeating laws that harm animals—like ag-gag laws. She also oversees For All Animals’ Attorney at Paw project, which provides assistance to advocates interested in passing laws and ordinances that protect animals on a local level.