California lawmakers are considering an “ag-gag” bill today that not only criminalizes undercover investigators and whistleblowers, but carves out special exemptions if the industry accidentally documents its own abuses.
As background: Ag-gag bills are facing massive public opposition across the country, and the industry is shifting how it talks about these bills. Factory farmers are moving away from attempts to outright criminalize anyone who photographs animal cruelty; instead, they’re introducing “mandatory reporting” requirements. Take California, for example. AB 343 says anyone who documents animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses has to notify the police. That sounds pretty reasonable, right?
But as I’ve discussed before, those reporting requirements are intended to intimidate whistleblowers, and keep them from documenting a pattern of abuses.
And on top of that, now groups like the California Cattlemen’s Association have included new language in the legislation: everyone who records animal cruelty has to turn it over to the police, unless the recording was made by the industry itself:
(3) This section does not apply to the inadvertent capture of an image otherwise governed by this section through the use of video surveillance, security systems, or other imaging systems.
One has to wonder: If these bills are really about stopping animal cruelty, as the industry is suddenly claiming, then why exempt itself?
The truth is that these bills are not about stopping cruelty, they are about stopping the exposure of cruelty. Big Ag groups are playing dumb and saying they have no idea what happens on their farms. But they know perfectly well. They just don’t want you to know.
It’s telling that every major newspaper in California has editorialized against these bills, citing First Amendment concerns. Here are a few: The Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Bakersfield Californian, and San Francisco Chronicle.
Even more telling is the list of groups that have signed in support and opposition.
Supporters of ag-gag include:
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Grain & Feed Association
California Horse Council
California Pork Producers Association
California Thoroughbred Breeders Association
Ventura County Cattlemen’s Association
Opponents of ag-gag include the Teamsters, ASPCA, Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, Animal Welfare Institute, California Labor Federation, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Organic Consumers Association, Whistleblower Support Fund, and many, many more.
If you share the concerns of labor unions, whistleblowers groups, animal welfare groups, environmentalists, and journalists, take action by contacting California lawmakers today.
UPDATE: Great news: California’s #AgGag bill was just pulled by sponsor! No hearing today. The bill is dead.