A string of bills attempting to target animal organizations and individuals exposing animal cruelty on farms have been defeated in several states. The ‘ag gag’ bills, as they’ve become known, have been unsuccessful in Florida, Minnesota, New York and Iowa.
Now, a Utah law has passed the state House and will move on to the state Senate. Rep. John Mathis (R) who sponsored the bill says “national propaganda groups” are hiding cameras on factory farms, ranches and dairy farms in order to shut down agricultural operations. The legislation would make filming on a farm without the owner’s consent a misdemeanor.
Suzanne McMillan of the ASPCA’s farm animal welfare program says, “Bills like this only serve to heighten suspicion that the agricultural industry has something to hide. Americans deserve to know how their food is produced, and responsible farmers should welcome that transparency.” She adds that the bill would protect business but harm animals.
Animal rights organizations have been opposing the ag gag bills from the start, including PETA who has now sent a letter along with Cloris Leachman to Utah lawmakers about what they call an “unconstitutional measure.” Leachman, actress and long-time vegetarian and animal advocate, has asked the legislators not to hide animal cruelty from the public.
“I hope that Utah legislators recognize that with consumer demand for better treatment of animals, they must work to enforce and strengthen laws, not penalize those trying to expose cruel and illegal practices. Citizens’ right to document cruelty to animals—wherever it occurs—is crucial in helping local, state, and federal officials enforce anti-cruelty laws,” Leachman writes.
“This bill makes Utah’s agriculture community appear desperate to hide inhumane and often illegal treatment of animals that has been documented across the country,” she adds. The actress also mentions that she helped stop a similar bill last year in her home state of Iowa, where she was “raised in the beef belt.”
Leachman pointed out that undercover cruelty investigations have often been conducted after whistleblowers bring animal abuse to the attention of organizations. Rep. Brian King (D) also said that the bill could stop whistleblowers from exposing illegal actions.
Other organizations opposing ag gag bills include Mercy For Animals, which provides Utah residents with a page to find their legislators and contact them about the bill.