Kentucky Lawmakers Using Animal Welfare Bill to Sneak in Ag Gag Provision
Senate ag committee introduces amendment that would penalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators at factory farms
Industrial Ag interests are at it again, trying to block public scrutiny of their operations in Kentucky this time. I just learned that the Kentucky state senate is using a popular animal welfare bill as a cover to quietly slip through an “ag-gag” stipulation that would criminalize independent, undercover investigations of factory farming facilities.
The original intent of HB 222 (Word doc), introduced by House Democrat Joanie Jenkins earlier this month, was to set euthanasia standards, such as restricted use of gunshots and a ban on using gas chambers, for animal shelters in the state.
Photo courtesy Farm Sanctuary
However, on Monday, after the bill had made it through the House, the Senate Agricultural Committee tagged on an amendment that would penalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators at factory farms. The amendment stipulates that any person who commits “agricultural operation interference” such as getting a job at a facility using a false identity or taking photos and videos without the owner’s consent, can be charged with “criminal trespass” and considered guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.
The amended bill isn’t available online yet, but you can read a version here (pdf). The amendment is added on at the end, beginning with page 5. (Representative Jenkins is reportedly unhappy with the amendment, but hasn't yet responded to my requests for comment.)
The amendment was approved by the Senate Ag Committee yesterday and will likely be sent to the full Kentucky Senate tomorrow (Thursday). If the Senate passes it, it will go back to the House for approval, but there will be no debate on the added ag-gag provision. Basically, the committee is trying to rush the bill through at the end of the session, that’s likely to end this week, without much public scrutiny.
“It’s a sneaky way to pass legislation…. [What the ag committee did] is not surprising, but disturbing,” says Matthew Dominguez, public policy manager for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, that had initially supported the bill. Dominguez says the animal welfare group, that had been watching the bill closely, had been “a little concerned” about its fate all along since HSUS had very recently exposed inhumane practices at a major Kentucky pig farm. Undercover videos taken at Iron Maiden Farms showed sows locked up in gestation cages so small they couldn’t turn around, and being fed the ground up intestines of their diseased piglets, a practice that’s illegal in Kentucky. (See video below)
“It’s no coincidence that just a month after the HSUS exposed appalling animal abuse at a Kentucky pig factory, the state’s meat industry has hijacked a pro-animal bill by slipping in an ag-gag provision that would silence whistleblowers who expose animal cruelty and food safety violations,” Dominguez says.
Animal welfare groups are gearing up to fight HB 222 and other similar ag-gag bills that are bound to start appearing in state legislatures again as part of Big Ag’s relentless efforts to block independent investigations into their farming practices. (Read Shut Up Money, the Journal’s 2012 report on this issue.) Exposés by Mercy for Animals, the HSUS, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have led to the closure of farming facilities, nationwide meat and egg recalls and criminal convictions.
Last year such 15 bills were introduced 11 US states, but every single one of them failed because of public outcry and protests from consumer and animal welfare groups. Clearly these legislative efforts don’t gain much ground — so far only two states, Iowa and Utah, have managed to pass anti-whistleblower bills. But that doesn’t mean Big Ag won’t keep on keepin’ on.
Meanwhile, HSUS already has an action alert against the Kentucky bill that it is asking state residents to sign.
The struggle for people’s right to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown/reared continues.