Last year, HSUS led the fight in fending off “ag-gag” bills in 11 states, with particularly feverish battles in Indiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming – all states where we’ve conducted investigations that led to exposes of abuses, whether puppy mills, horse soring, or gestation crate confinement. We are geared up to fight renewed battles this year, but the good news is, the early skirmishes are decidedly in our favor.
Lobbyists for livestock industries succeeded, prior to 2013, in passing six state statutes to make it a crime for a whistleblower, under certain circumstances, to document patterns of animal abuse on factory farms and other animal-use facilities, but last year, we halted the spread of these statutes. On Wednesday, last year’s ag-gag bill in New Hampshire met its final demise due to opposition from a strong coalition of public interest groups. And earlier this week in Indiana proposed legislation seems to have been stripped of its most problematic anti-whistleblower provisions.
These bills are often pushed by legislators who feign an attempt to help animals – for example. by requiring us to turn over footage just as our investigation launches. But once we present our case, sensible legislators realize how simply hiding animal abuse from a public which cares about animals is really the aim.
A year ago, the HSUS was fighting nearly ten ag-gag bills simultaneously; thus far in 2014, only one has been introduced. We have no doubt that more bills will be brought forth by the industry in 2014, but it appears that at least some agribusiness interests realize the whole strategy is backfiring – and the bills themselves are drawing more attention to routine problems, such as tail docking of dairy cows, extreme confinement of pigs, or mistreatment of dogs on puppy mills. Millions more Americans are asking themselves, “what do factory farms have to hide?” Media coverage sparked by the controversies, such as this compelling piece by Rolling Stone, has exposed the sordid truth about how chickens, pigs and other animals are abused on factory farms. In fact, the National Pork Producers Council studied coverage of the ag-gag issue and “found that 99 percent of the stories about it were negative.”
It’s no wonder that one of the world’s foremost expert on farm animal welfare Dr. Temple Grandin says that ag-gag bills are “the stupidest thing that ag ever did” or that the San Francisco Chronicle called the efforts “the worst PR gaffe since New Coke.”
Thankfully, some companies are realizing their time and resources are better spent working with us to make commonsense animal welfare reforms that all stakeholders—producers, retailers, animal protection groups and consumers—can support. For example, the HSUS’ progress on ridding the pork industry of cruel gestation crates continues to accelerate. With your support, we’ll keep fighting efforts by agribusiness interests and puppy mills to silence their critics and we’ll work to drive reforms that improve the lives of so many animals.