“Sunlight is the best antiseptic.” –Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Over the past few years, animal-rights groups have increasingly used undercover investigations to expose horrific conditions in factory farms and slaughter houses across the United States. One such investigation in 2008 by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) prompted the largest recall of beef in U.S. history and resulted in new Federal legislation banning the slaughter of downed cattle (source).
In what can accurately be described as backlash, bills have been introduced across the nation in state legislatures to discourage whistle-blowing and undercover investigations on factory farms and in slaughter houses (source). These “ag-gag” bills criminalize undercover investigations and will have a chilling effect on future investigations into animal abuse (source). Earlier this Spring, Iowa became the first state to pass ag-gag legislation, but a similar bill in Illinois failed (source).
In addition to protecting bad actors that abuse animals, ag-gag legislation is also bad for the honest farmers that adhere to humane animal husbandry practices. As State Senator Quirmbach from Iowa accurately observed, “Passing this bill will put a big red question mark stamped on every pork chop, every chicken wing, every steak, every egg produced in [Iowa] because it will raise the question of ‘what have you got to hide?’” A good question!
The recent fervor over pink-slime in beef shows that the American public demands to know more about where their food comes from and how it is made. Hiding questionable farming practices behind ag-gag bills is the wrong way to go. Selling food inherently requires trust between producers and consumers. When consumers lose trust – as in the pink-slime case – the effects can be disastrous for business. In the end, the truth always comes to the light of day.