This week, history was made when Idaho’s ag-gag bill—called the “Agricultural Security Act”—was overturned Monday, marking the first time an ag-gag law has been reversed.
Signed into law in February 2014, the Agricultural Security Act created potential jail sentences and fines for people caught secretly videotaping abuses at Idaho farms. This passing was just one example of whistleblower laws that prevent workers from filming abuses at work. These so-called “ag-gag” bills have gained attention due to the release of undercover videos filmed by animal-welfare organizations that show pigs, cows, chicken, and turkeys being beaten, thrown, and mutilated at various farms. Farmers have reacted to these images by trying to enact laws that will silence bad press and make it illegal for employees to expose the abuse.
Matthew Liebman, senior attorney for Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the animal-rights organizations in the coalition that filed the suit overturning the Agricultural Security Act, took to Reddit on Tuesday and told readers to ask him anything. Liebman had plenty of interesting things to say, so we narrowed his best quotes to keep you updated on this gigantic ruling.
1. On Idaho
“Ag-Gag laws criminalize photos and videos taken by people who have a right to be at the facility as employees. Under the Idaho statute, a bona-fide employee could be sent to prison for a year for taking out his cell phone to document animal cruelty if he didn’t ask his boss’ permission first.”
2. On undercover videos
“The real significance of these videos is not the discrete acts of animal cruelty they reveal (e.g. a worker punching a cow), but rather the kinds of routine, normal, commonplace animal suffering that pervades factory farming (e.g., confining animals in small cages, mutilating them without pain relief), or even things that are inherent in producing animal products (e.g., separating newborn calves from their bellowing mothers).”
3. On free speech
“The mere existence of these laws is harmful, even if no one is prosecuted, because they prevent people from engaging in protected free speech, chilling our constitutional rights before we even exercise them … The industry thrives on secrecy and promotes false images of how animals are treated before becoming meat. Whatever one’s view on the ethics of eating animals, a robust and educated public debate can’t take place without access to accurate information.”
4. On other ag-gags
“I’m confident that that statute (in North Carolina) will be declared unconstitutional sooner or later. … We already have a case pending challenging Utah’s Ag-Gag statute.”
5. On the future
“I think one of the most significant things each of us can do is simply to refuse to participate in this cruelty by boycotting animal products and adopting a vegan diet. It’s easier than it’s ever been before. It may seem like a pat answer, but leaving animal products out of your shopping cart is the most direct way you can support a better life for animals.”
Photo by Mercy For Animals