Disguised as legislation to hasten and facilitate crackdowns on animal cruelty of farm animals in slaughterhouses, a bill that would gag whistle-blowers is moving through the California state Assembly.
AB 343 would make it illegal to record animal cruelty without turning the evidence over to local law enforcement within 48 hours. The bill also “would encourage” the person who shot the video or took photographs to turn their material over to “the owner of the animal or poultry, or a representative of the owner.”
The California legislation is similar to similar bills wending their way through six states―Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Vermont―in that they all make it nearly impossible to do the type of exposes that have recently riveted attention on inhumane animal treatment.
Undercover video shot in 2008 at a Chino slaughterhouse led to a symbolic $497 million settlement last year between animal welfare advocates and the bankrupt Riverside County-based Hallmark Meat Company. The National School Lunch Program was one of Hallmark’s biggest customers before its untimely demise.
The bill was introduced in California this year at the behest of the California Cattlemen’s Association, whose members, according to their press release, “care deeply for the welfare of their animals and maintain the highest standards for animal care, and should be made aware of any animal cruelty occurring on their property so that they can take immediate corrective measures.”
Animal rights activists sometimes take months to build a factory farm case before making their information available to the public. The California law would effectively short-circuit the effort, although perhaps not as effectively as other efforts around the country that outright ban shooting footage of mistreated animals.
Many of the so-called “ag-gag bills” have been inspired by legislation generated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank that brings lawmakers and lobbyists together at conferences to conjure up model bills that can be replicated on local, state and federal levels. ALEC has been a strong voice for privatizing government work, weakening unions, fighting President Obama’s healthcare reform law and enacting voter ID laws.
Proposed Indiana legislation captures the essence of the ag-gag bills by making it illegal to videotape livestock with the intent to “embarrass, annoy or harm the business.” Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Missouri and Iowa already have their own ag-gag laws.