A U.S. district judge in Utah recently ruled that plaintiffs can continue their suit in the country's first legal challenge to an "ag-gag" law criminalizing undercover investigations.
Plaintiffs in the case, including several animal rights groups, intend to strike down Utah's statute, which was passed in 2012 and makes it a misdemeanor to enter a farm under false pretenses and take video or sound recordings. At least six other states have statutes with similar measures.
Last week, The Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle, in his blog titled "Fighting Factory Farming — With Every Tool We Have," said the American Farm Bureau Federation, pork producers, cattle producers and their political allies "push legislatures to pass ag-gag measures — in effect to freeze their abusive current policies in place and to forbid any future reforms."
The reality, however, is that this type of legislation prohibits deception in hiring.
Emily Meredith, communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, noted that to any normal person, the statutes aren't unreasonable; they simply ask for individuals seeking employment to tell the truth.
She asked, "Why are groups fighting so hard for the right to lie? And if you need to lie to accomplish your mission, should you really be considered a trustworthy source on any subject, much less on animal welfare?"
Pacelle pledged to "tip over some tables" and be "fearless in fighting factory farming."
So, for Leland Hogan, president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, he's glad the judge has decided to let the challenge move ahead. "We look forward to having these principles validated in a court of law," he said.
Hogan added that proper animal care is the responsibility of every individual working on a farm with animals, and it is their obligation to immediately report any signs of deliberate animal abuse.
"As farmers and ranchers tend livestock, poultry and fish, the animals in their care provide them an important economic return. For these reasons, farmers need to be able to trust that those working for them are there for the right reasons," Hogan said. "If someone sees abuse, they should take steps to stop it immediately by reporting it to a farm owner or law enforcement, not holding onto it for extended periods of time, potentially altering footage to make it damaging enough to put a farmer out of business."
There have, unfortunately, been some bad actors, but that also has brought to light how important it is to take steps to keep animal welfare at the forefront.
It's more important than ever to do extensive background checks before hiring. Farmers should ask neighbors if they have seen any suspicious vehicles or if they had any job suitor asking them for a job.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance has also started sharing within its network (which includes protein trade associations) a report with names, aliases and photos of known activists. Groups can then send that information on to their farmer members to help protect them from job seekers with ulterior motives.
Farm employees also need to feel empowered to report incidences if they occur. Requiring a code to be signed by all workers helps set clear expectations and encourages reporting instead of holding information.