Why "Ag-Gag" laws are an attack on journalism, health and public's right to know about their food

butterball turkey abuse video
© Mercy For Animals

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! hosted a good debate over the wave of new "ag-gag" bills that make it a crime to film animal abuse at farms and slaughterhouses. Why this matters:

Five states, including Missouri, Utah and Iowa, already have such laws in place. North Carolina has just become the latest state to consider such a law, joining a list that includes Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. Many of these bills have been introduced with the backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a mechanism for corporate lobbyists to help write state laws.

Will Potter explains why this is an attack on journalism:

What concerns me as a journalist is exactly what you just described. I mean, these bills are so broad that they wrap up, in some cases, photography and video documentation. They wrap up anyone who distributes or possesses that footage. And even the reformed bills, as they’ve been presented, which focus on misrepresenting yourself in job application or the mandatory reporting provisions, those still put reporters at risk.

I think people need to understand that there’s a long history of investigative journalism in this country, I mean, dating back to Nellie Bly, who pretended to be insane in order to expose systemic abuses in insane asylums across the country, for reporters to document these types of abuses in this way. In addition to that, not everyone who is exposing and making the news has congressional press credentials. We’re in a climate right now where some of the national headlines are made not by investigative journalists, but by people that are taking it upon themselves to document this kind of corruption.

He cites an example from North Carolina of what these kinds of undercover investigations can accomplish:

I think it’s really reflective of this national climate to see what happened in North Carolina this last week. A fifth person, a fifth employee of Butterball pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges. And on that same day, the North Carolina Legislature introduced a new bill that criminalizes the very investigation that led to those criminal charges, and also led to the ousting of a top Ag official in North Carolina on obstruction of justice. I think that really wraps up, you know, the totality of what we’re talking about, that the mechanisms in place that are meant to be safeguards in many ways themselves are corrupt. And it’s taken undercover investigators to expose that and to allow for this dialogue of what needs to happen to reform.

Watch the full debate in the video above. We've covered "ag-gag" laws before on TreeHugger, so look at the links to the left for more.

Potter was also on Inside Story talking about this issue and whether these laws essentially are legalizing animal abuse:

Potter is all over this issue, so be sure to check out his blog for more.

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