Gagging on AG-GAG

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. –Gandhi

photo_martindaleA few weeks ago, I returned to vegetarianism. Having been a vegetarian on and off for years, since my mid-teens, I’ve struggled with the contradiction between my love of animals and my love for bacon. There are certainly health benefits to the lifestyle but the real push for me has always been my compassion for animals and my revulsion for cruelty towards them. The agriculture industry has a particularly bad reputation for animal cruelty–cruelty we have only learned about through videos and stories from employee or activist whistleblowers.

Last week we read that a young woman from Draper was being charged with a misdemeanor for violating Utah’s Ag-Gag law–a law that essentially criminalizes whistle-blowing for farming, slaughterhouses, and other animal-related industry. In other words, the law prevents us from finding out about animal abuse rather than doing anything to prevent the abuse. After further review and the determination that the woman was actually on public property while taking video with her cell phone, the charge was dropped. Let’s be clear though, it was only after the press got involved that they dropped the charges. Fortunately, the Salt Lake Tribune was tipped to the story–nothing like the harsh light of day to add some perspective.

Utah’s AG-GAG law passed in 2012. The legislation was sponsored by Representative John Mathis of Vernal. If Mathis’ name sounds familiar its because he has been in the news this session for sponsoring the controversial bill, HB76, the Constitutional Carry gun bill that was vetoed by the Governor and, fortunately, fell short of votes for an override.

Mathis is a curious one. He is a veterinarian by profession, yet this bill, very clearly, puts the needs and interests of the agricultural industry above the compassionate treatment of animals, a trait I certainly look for in my veterinarian.

While defending his bill, he referred to those who would seek to make videos or other records of inhumane treatment as “animal-rights terrorists” who are only interested in creating propaganda aimed at destroying the agriculture industry.

“There are groups with the stated purpose to do away with animal agriculture, and that’s egregious — that’s egregious to me,” said Mathis.

The law makes “agricultural operation interference” a crime, punishable as a class A misdemeanor on the first offense, a third-degree felony on the second.

The bill passed easily and quietly. Granted, in 45 days, there is a lot going on. We had Sex-Ed, guns, education, etc. and it was hard for this bill to get much notice. I remember only one time, late in the session, when a small handful of young people held a very modest protest in the capitol rotunda. It just wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Fast forward to this year and AG-GAG bills are all over the country. Turns out they are part of the ALEC agenda–an agenda that is intended to strengthen corporate footholds (read: profit) at the expense of safety/health regulation and oversight.

Some states, like Indiana, have successfully fought these bills, but far more states are easily passing easily. It is no surprise that in Utah, where we’ve never met an industry we didn’t like, that this bill passed so easily. We seem to be ahead of the curve and are often the “incubator” for bad ALEC bills.

And while I believe the focus on corporate profitability and industry deregulation is wrong, the tragedy is far more real to the animals who suffer an often times tortuous existence followed by a horrible death. There are humane ways to raise, and yes, to slaughter animals; unfortunately, corporate greed outweighs anything but the most efficient disposal of what is only seen as a source of profit.

I believe the real tragedy of an AG-GAG law is not what it says about corporate greed but what it says about our society in general.

To quote Paul McCartney, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian.”

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