Letter: ‘Ag-Gag’ Bills Are a Bad Idea
To the Editor:
New Hampshire lawmakers will vote this month on House Bill 110, which requires witnesses of farm-animal abuse to inform police within 48 hours and to notify them of any photographs or video evidence. (“Witnesses to Animal Cruelty Would Have to Report in N.H.,” Valley News, Jan. 5). Individuals who record “cruelty to livestock” and fail to notify police within the 48 hour timeframe would be fined $250 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent conviction. Although sponsors say the 48-hour notification period will protect animals, investigations of agribusiness facilities often take weeks or months to complete. Without adequate time to gather evidence and provide thorough documentation, any attempt to prosecute for abuse would fail.
HB 110 is one of 15 anti-whistleblowing “ag-gag” bills introduced last year in 11 states, including Vermont. Rep. Janice Gardner (a Dover Democrat) says the bill “will protect the small farmers in New Hampshire. … What we’re trying to do is to prevent … ‘frivolous actions,’ by making people think before they accuse” (Concord Monitor, Sept. 10).
Actually, the bill is part of a national effort by paid lobbyists to criminalize whistleblowing in order to prevent documentation of food and worker safety and animal cruelty violations at industrial farms and slaughter plants. Ag-gag bills have been introduced in dozens of states over the years and have largely failed as unconstitutional violations of free speech.
In the meantime, undercover investigations continue to expose appalling violations of food and worker safety and animal cruelty laws at slaughter plants and factory farms. The result has been very bad press for large agribusiness. Instead of cleaning up its act and complying with the law, the industry wants to curtail First Amendment rights of the public and stifle the press with measures like ag-gag legislation. Some bills go so far as to prevent whistleblowers from exposing illegal activities, such as sexual harassment and financial embezzlement.
In a particularly disingenuous and ironic turn, industry lobbyists have convinced drafters of the latest ag-gag bills that they are looking out for small farmers and animal welfare (e.g. Rep. Gardner’s impassioned defense of New Hampshire’s repressive HB 110). But ag-gag proponents are merely furthering Big Ag’s agenda: to keep consumers in the dark about how their food is produced at the expense of food safety, free speech, consumer rights, confidence in small farmers and animal welfare.
Small farmers in New Hampshire and Vermont do not need protection from spurious claims of abuse. Moreover, legislation which suppresses investigations and free speech begs the question, “What is there to hide?”