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Court Strikes Down Idaho Ag-Gag Law

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment

When animal rights abuses occur on factory farms, chances are great we know about them because some brave soul went undercover. Using hidden cameras, activists take jobs at factory farms and blow the whistle on abuses. Unfortunately, some states have what is termed “ag-gag laws,” which make it illegal to conduct undercover investigations at farms.

Thankfully, activists in Idaho can still conduct investigations. The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law, ruling it is unconstitutional. The court held that the law violates first and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The decision marks the first time a court ruled that an ag-gag law is unconstitutional.

Here are a few details about the Idaho court case. Don’t keep reading if you are the squeamish type. Some of the details are downright revolting. In 2014, an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, released of video of workers using a moving tractor to drag a cow on the floor by an attached chain around her neck. The video also showed the workers repeatedly, beating, kicking and jumping on cows. Undercover Mercy for Animals activists secretly recorded the video at the Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho. The video went viral, drawing national attention.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association, a trade organization representing dairy farmers and producers in the state, drafted and sponsored an ag-gag bill. The bill made it illegal to conduct the type of undercover investigations that revealed the abuses at the Idaho dairy. The Idaho state legislature passed the bill. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), along with other animal welfare organizations, challenged the bill in court as being unconstitutional.

A similar case is pending in federal court in Utah, which also has an ag-gag law in place. In 2013, Amy Meyer recorded a video at Dale Smith Meatpacking Co. in Draper, Utah, of a sick cow being moved by a bulldozer. In the video, Meyer is heard exclaiming, “The cow on that bulldozer is alive!” Meyer was charged under the state’s ag-gag law, but the charges were dropped. Meyer, ALDF, PETA and an undercover investigator filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ag-gag law.

What undercover investigations reveal

Severe animal abuse has been discovered at factory farms through undercover investigations like the one conducted by Mercy for Animals. Investigations have also revealed the presence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” chickens abandoned by the thousands and left to starve, and pregnant and nursing pigs housed in gestation crates where they can’t even turn around.
“Undercover investigations have revealed the dark world of animal abuse and health and safety violations on factory farms — such as workers kicking, punching, and dragging cows, pigs, and chickens,” wrote Stephen Wells, ALDF’s executive director, in a blog post back in 2013. “These investigations have resulted in criminal convictions, national meat recalls, plant closures, and civil lawsuits — all of which makes undercover investigations and reporting an absolute necessity for protecting animals and public health and safety.”

In other words, undercover investigations have been good for the animals on factory farms and the humans that eat them. Since many of us just don’t want to be vegetarians, making sure that farm animals are treated as humanely as possible is important. What does it say about a society that mistreats its animals?

Image credit: Mercy for Animals

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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