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What are ‘ag gag’ laws?

Tiffany Dowell Published on 25 June 2014

Recently, farm protection statutes, known in the media as “ag gag” laws, have been in the news across America. The details of each law vary by state, but they generally prohibit a person from taking unauthorized photography or videos of an agricultural operation, making doing so a criminal misdemeanor offense.

To date, seven states have adopted some form of “ag gag” legislation: North Dakota, Montana, Kansas, Utah, Iowa, Missouri and Idaho.

Several other states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, have considered but failed to pass similar legislation.

Many of these laws were passed by states in response to undercover investigations of farms by animal rights groups such as The Humane Society of the U.S. and Mercy For Animals, for example. Although the exact provisions of each law vary by state, there are three general prohibitions.

First, most laws prohibit entering an agricultural operation and obtaining unauthorized video or photography of the operation.

Second, some laws prohibit an applicant from making false statements on a job application in order to gain entry to an agricultural operation.

This is in response to several animal rights activists providing false names and information on job applications at farms and then, once hired, secretly recording the facility’s operations.

Third, some statutes require any animal abuse discovered at a facility be reported in a timely manner to the proper authorities.

These provisions are in response to the fact that certain activists have delayed reporting claimed animal abuse in order to allow well-known animal rights groups to provide the information to the media.

These laws are the subject of serious controversy. Supporters, often in the agricultural industry, claim they are necessary to ensure agricultural operations are safe from trespassers and those seeking to damage their property and livelihood.

Opponents argue the laws do not protect animals from abuse and inhumane production practices.

Several of the laws that have been passed are currently facing legal challenges. In both Utah and Idaho, groups of plaintiffs including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA and several journalists, have filed suits claiming the laws are unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs’ legal arguments are these statutes violate their constitutional rights, including their First Amendment right to free speech and their right to equal protection since they target animal rights groups. In both of these cases, attorneys for the states have filed motions to dismiss these lawsuits.

In the larger picture, this issue illustrates the continually widening gap between most Americans and production agriculture.

It should certainly be a concern for farmers and ranchers that for most people in America, their knowledge of production agriculture comes not from their own first-hand experiences but instead only from what they have seen in the media.

Regardless of how courts rule on the legality of "ag gag" legislation, it is imperative for those of us involved in agriculture to educate the public about our industry and production practices rather than allowing activist groups to be the only voice heard.  end mark

Tiffany Dowell

 

Tiffany Dowell
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
Agricultural Law
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

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