In recent years, undercover activists, many from the Humane Society, have taped the beating, kicking, and burning of cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and other farm animals. In 2008, a video taken in a California slaughterhouse led to the shutdown of the second-largest provider of meat to the national school lunch program. In 2009, a whistle-blowing video led to the closure of Vermont’s largest processor of male veal calves.
Rather than vow to enforce humane standards of treatment, lobbyists for America’s factory farms have instead introduced legislation in states across the country, including California and Vermont, to essentially punish whistle-blowers. Some states, such as Iowa and Missouri, have passed these so-called “Ag-Gag” laws that would either make it a crime to tape animal cruelty or force photographers to turn over their images to law enforcement within 48 hours. In many cases, the legislation is being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the same Koch brothers-funded group that promoted the infamous “stand your ground” law involved in the Florida killing of Trayvon Martin.
Food is among the most basic of necessities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people become ill and 3,000 die each year in the United States from food-borne illnesses. Ohio State University researchers last year found that health care costs from food illnesses amounted to $78 billion a year.
Periodic violations of either environmental or agricultural rules by major food companies — as evidenced by last week’s $4 million settlement by the federal government with Tyson Foods over ammonia releases — makes it all the more critical that meat and egg processors are transparent in their procedures. Some states, including New Hampshire, understand this and have rejected or tabled ALEC-inspired bills. So should California, Vermont, and any other state considering Ag-Gag legislation. Many industries ban unapproved taping of plants and labs to protect patents. But when it comes to the food that goes directly into our bodies, companies are much better off making sure there is no cause for outrage in their operations, rather than feigning outrage at the people who expose them.