Animal rights groups cheered the decision on the Idaho law this week from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill. “First, Ag-Gag laws are seriously hazardous to your health”.
“Idaho’s lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment”.
It’s the kind of language you might find in an op-ed from the head of an animal rights group. In his 29-page ruling, the judge additionally name-dropped The Jungle, the 1906 novel by Upton Sinclair that was based mostly on undercover journeys into meatpacking amenities, which is extensively credited with driving regulatory reform.
“This decision vindicates the public’s rights to know how animals are treated before they become meat”, Liebman said. The court in Idaho acknowledged that Ag Gag is nothing more than the industry’s attempt to stifle negative criticism, and that “food production is not a private matter”.
According to the law that’s now been struck down, people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations faced up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“That argument we found wholly unpersuasive”, he continued. The court ruled that this statute violates the First Amendment by suppressing speech that criticizes factory farms and could be useful evidence supporting the whistleblower’s claims. “That is not part of the First Amendment”.
It also limits anyone from obtaining employment at a facility with the intent to “cause economic or other injury to the facility’s operations, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers”.
The agriculture industry is not known for its transparency. “The legislation was designed and crafted to try and protect First Amendment rights while also trying to provide some personal property protection”. The choice marks the primary time a court has declared any such law unconstitutional. Currently, seven states have Ag-Gag laws on the books.
The problem farmers face with a buying public that is increasingly removed from rural, agricultural life is that raising livestock isn’t always pretty even when it is done in what has been accepted as an ethical manner.
An Idaho federal judge ruled on Monday in favor of undercover citizen journalists who used hidden cameras to film animal abuse and malfeasant factory farm practices. Still, despite efforts to take the higher road when it comes to raising livestock, realizing that the cows that provide the milk for Chobani’s morning Greek yogurt are largely kept in barns and latched on to milking machines instead of frolicking through pastoral rolling hills could be enough to turn off some buyers.
Kay Johnson Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Animal Agricultural Alliance, said animal care is the number one priority of all farm and ranch families. Despite the public outcry, the industry hasn’t changed its behavior.