Taking a stand against silence


Happy chickens at Polyface Farm.  Photo by Jessica Reeder

Happy chickens at Polyface Farm. Photo by Jessica Reeder

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks outraged about the “ag gag” laws sweeping the nation, and while it’s a little outside our regular purview, the more we hear, the more we feel moved to speak up.  

As a quick overview, “ag gag” laws are another term for whistleblower suppression laws that prevent covert video taping at large factory farms for the purpose of exposing illegal animal-cruelty practices.  The laws, at various stages in the legislative process in about a dozen states, are in response to a growing number of videos surfacing. Some are from groups like the Humane Society and some from slaugherhouse employees disgusted with illegal practices in the workplace.  These videos expose illegal practices and many have led to criminal charges brought against the corporations.  To be clear, we’re not talking about clipping the wings of your layer hens or other benign necessities.  We’re talking about when an operation goes beyond what is necessary, humane and legal, such as using excessive electric shocks to try to force a non-ambulatory calf to get up.

In some states, whistleblowers found guilty would not only be punished, but also be put on permanent terrorist watchlists.  Legislators in states proposing these laws refer to the potential for defamation, amongst other things, as a reason to make such video-taping illegal. 

Why is it important for farmers to take a stand? 

Animal Science expert Temple Grandin.  photo courtesy of Jonathunder

Animal Science expert Temple Grandin, who succinctly described the ag gag laws as “the dumbest thing.”
photo by of Jonathunder

You see it over and over again: legislators supporting these gag laws to “look out for farmers.”  Well we know who they’re looking out for, and it isn’t the small farmer, the beginning farmer, or the sustainable farmer.  Its the few bad apples in the business: the concentrated animal feeding operations that condone abuse for the sake of profit.  Calling attention to those bad apples certainly does not do a disservice to farmers – it in fact strengthens the agricultural movement and supports our food systems.

Yes, we raise animals for food.  And as farmers and ranchers, we all know that some of the work we do with animals can look bad if viewed out of context.  However, we also know that the line between providing a reasonable level of care and animal abuse isn’t as murky as the big-ag representatives who defend these bills make it out.  So instead of letting them turn this debate into humanitarians versus farmers, let’s join the debate and speak for ourselves.

NYFC has joined on as an organizational signer to a petition by the ASPCA. You can read more about the laws in specific states and about attempts to fight them here. There are a number of petitions out there and other ways to get involved, so I’ll just conclude by saying that, if you feel passionately, please look around for groups or petitions that reflect your personal views and sign up.  And then don’t stop there.  Do whatever you can – calling offices, talking to friends, etc.  As farmers, let’s stand up to protect the sanctity of our work.

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