Animals rights groups PETA and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s “ag-gag” law, enacted last year, which bans secretly documenting animal abuse at agricultural operations. PETA and ALDF are joined in the lawsuit by journalists, a professor, the political journal CounterPunch, and Utah citizen Amy Meyer. Last spring, Meyer became the first person in the U.S. to be prosecuted under an ag gag law. After videotaping animal abuse on her cell phone at a slaughterhouse in Utah from a public road, Meyer was charged under Utah’s ag gag law. The state dismissed her case without prejudice after it was discovered she was on public land.
Through undercover investigations, animal abuse has been revealed, including workers kicking, punching, and dragging chickens, pigs and cows, ALDF points out in a press release. The investigations resulted in criminal convictions, national meat recalls, plant closures and civil lawsuits, making undercover investigations and reporting essential to protect animals and public health. That makes the Utah law troubling, for it criminalizes undercover investigations of animal cruelty.
The Utah law pertains to agricultural operations, meaning “private property used for the production of livestock, poultry, livestock products, or poultry products.” Under the law, a person is guilty of agricultural operation interference if they do the following:
- Leave a recording device on the agricultural operation without the consent of the owner or the owner’s image
- Obtain access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses
- Apply for employment at an agricultural operation with the intent to record an image or sound from the agricultural operation
- Know when they accept employment from an agricultural operation that the owner prohibits the employee from recording an image or sound
The slew of ag gag bills introduced in state legislatures
Kansas was the first state to enact an ag gag bill in 1990, with Montana and North Dakota following in 1991. Within a two-year period, starting in 2011, there have been 18 ag gag bills in state legislatures, including in Iowa. Last year, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed an ag gag bill into law, which makes “agricultural production facility fraud” a crime. A person commits it if they get a job at an agricultural production facility under false pretenses with the intent to “commit an act not authorized by the owner.” It also makes it illegal for anyone to help a person obtain a job at an agricultural production facility under false pretenses. A similar bill passed in Missouri, and bills in other state legislatures are pending.
Last spring, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed an ag gag bill in the state for several reasons, including that the State Attorney General thinks the law violates the U.S. Constitution. The law also appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law, and some district attorneys in the state expressed concerns that the bill would make it difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, Haslam said in a statement.
Photo: Flickr user, Rebel with a Frog