Ag Lobby Pushes Right to Harm While it Works to Stifle Free Speech

By on February 22, 2016 with 7 Comments

It’s remarkable to see so many companies – whether food retailers like McDonald’s and Costco, or major agricultural producers like Smithfield – recognizing that animal welfare matters, and making major adjustments in their business models to adapt to that reality. At the same time, many animal agriculture trade associations, with the notable exception of United Egg Producers, are digging in and calling upon their allies in state legislatures and in Congress to try to stifle reforms, advancing draconian measures that are antithetical to principles of transparency and free speech.

It speaks volumes that some of these groups are prepared to eviscerate democratic values to maintain the status quo, even as the corporate sector recognizes that the consumer base has spoken. As I’ve previously discussed, agribusiness lobbyists relentlessly attack the First Amendment via “ag-gag” laws, which in more than half a dozen states forbid private citizens from documenting the treatment of animals. As a prior strategy, many of these agricultural interests have tried to make the ballot initiative process unworkable in their states – not exactly a statement of confidence that they think that the people share their views about how animals are treated in conventional production systems. In Missouri – which already has an ag-gag law and a “right to farm” measure — operators of puppy mills and factory farms aren’t satisfied; they are leaning on lawmakers to deny citizens access to inspection records of these facilities (pretty ironic for the Show Me State).  In Oklahoma now – in what may be the most astonishing and overreaching action we’ve yet seen in any state – they are even trying to make it illegal for “animal rights charitable organizations” to solicit money from people in the state if the organization conducts national campaigns or does any lobbying whatsoever.  It looks like a Missouri lawmaker just introduced a clone of that bill in the last couple of days.

But one of their biggest maneuvers this year comes in the form of so-called “Right to Farm” amendments to state constitutions. These highly misleading measures, better dubbed “Right to Harm,” would consolidate even more power into the hands of the animal agriculture lobbies by barring elected officials and voters from passing commonsense rules regulating agriculture – for example, stopping extreme confinement, or restricting the use of antibiotics. These dangerous restrictions on our democratic legislative process are popping up throughout the country. They want to wall off an entire category of our economy from regulatory or legislative oversight.

With our allies and sympathetic lawmakers, we’ve blocked the trade associations’ “right to farm” measure in Indiana. But last year, lawmakers in Oklahoma put a right to farm measure on this year’s ballot, and we’re facing a fierce fight there between now and November. And we are facing a pitched fight in Nebraska, where State Senator Ernie Chambers, an extraordinary animal advocate, is leading the charge to block a restrictive measure from advancing.

The Nebraska bill – which is opposed by the Nebraska Farmers Union, a group comprised of family farmers – is an assault not just on democratic decision making, but also on local control. Voters, for example, wouldn’t be able to have a say in whether agribusiness should phase out forms of extreme confinement or to determine that massive amounts of animal waste cannot be dumped into streams or the backyards of neighbors. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, State Senator John Kuehn, has made it clear that the reason he introduced this amendment was the public scrutiny of animal cruelty exposed by the New York Times at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in his state.

The harm to animals would extend beyond chickens, pigs, and cows; breeding dogs are considered livestock under Nebraska law, and they’re inspected by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. This amendment could help puppy mill operators, who have a stronghold in Nebraska, carry on their inhumane practices without fear of stronger regulations. In the same vein, the Oklahoma “right to farm” measure is being pushed not just by factory farmers and puppy mills, but also by the state’s cockfighting community, which wants to undo a 2002 citizen initiative that outlawed their bloody spectacles.

Make no mistake. Despite the gains we’ve made, we are in a real battle over the treatment of animals, especially in the middle part of the country, where trade groups and their allies seem prepared to stop at nothing to thwart progress in agriculture. Don’t sit on the sidelines. We need people of conscience to speak up, especially if you are a resident of one of these states. It’s more than a matter of animal protection – it’s about your right to petition your government, and about an attempt by special interests to make the government an extension of their industry.

Farm Animals, Humane Economy, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Barbara G. says:

    This is the same war that has been waged against any anti-horse slaughter bill ever introduced in congress. The instant that a bill in introduced the lobbyists start going around to all the politicians offices and asking them not to cosponsor the new bill. They grease their palms with donations that are supposed to go to their reelection campaigns. The Senate seems to be given larger amounts in donations that the House gets. The House reps seem to be able to gather at least 150 to 160 in votes where the Senate is lucky 25 and this includes the the person that introduced the bill.

  2. Robynne Catheron says:

    I don’t know if I’d be so quick to praise Smithfield. They’re using equine blood farms to provide the blood serum they need to keep their pigs fertile and reproducing. It’s horribly cruel, and the Missouri farm has been flying under the radar for five years without USDA inspection.

    If you haven’t heard of equine blood farms, check out Animals’ Angels latest investigative report:

  3. Sally Palmer says:

    The “let them be cage-free” rallying cry waved a flag people from a variety of viewpoints could follow because the majority of Americans agree that they do not condone animal cruelty or unhealthy farming conditions whether they eat meat or not. It has been an easy-to-grasp, emotionally grabbing concept that animals should be raised in natural, healthy conditions.

    Now we have another concept to rally around that few people can disagree with–their right to know that their food production is being inspected every step of the way to ensure these healthy conditions. They are paying for this food, eating it and feeding it to their families, and they have a right to know from start to finish the production process.

    The military, who is the defender to the death of our democratic way of life against dictatorships, is the number one believer in the practical wisdom that without ongoing inspections, there’s no respect for standards, and without enforced adherence to standards of behavior, it is inevitable that the feared dangers standards are designed to prevent will occur.

    As crazy as this may sound now with the aggressive anti-inspection activities of some meat industry extremists, it is perhaps not too much to think of demanding live video feed inspections to push back against ag-gag laws when we remember Americans’ willingness to fight for their right to know the truth about public issues. It naturally follows from that we also don’t believe anyone has the right to hide something they’re doing wrong if it’s a legitimate public concern and not a matter of national security. So obviously we now need a consistent, long-term campaign like cage-free that we can all push to achieve recognition of ag-gag and its related dangers to our most basic freedoms, because if we don’t, we will find ourselves in little cages being fed God only knows what from meat industry extremists and those they have corrupted.

    We have a right to know the truth about our food, and no one has the right to cover up that truth, because we’re paying for it in so many ways.

  4. Eric Stickdorn says:

    To see the testimony in Indiana, overwhelmingly Against the Right to Farm (Harm) constitutional amendment, go to the 2015 Archived Video Agriculture Meetings by the following link:

    Click on Monday, Feb.16 for the committee hearing. Only one person testified in favor of the proposed bill.

  5. Lauri's Johnson and says:

    All I have to say is that I was once a USDA Inspector in another commodity, and I SUPPORT any measure that demands increased inspection…No matter how well articulated by corporate response, their desire for less inspection is definitly self serving,. PERIOD.

  6. Beverly Perry says:

    I am ashamed of my home state. Days after this blog past by Wayne Pacelle, I filed a First Amendment retaliation claim against the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for the retaliation and extreme measures taken to silence citizens who spoke out concerning starvation, withholding and blocking of medical care for seriously injured animals, withholding of humane euthanasia in the face of unrelenting suffering, experimental medical procedures and other valid concerns at the Lawton Animal Shelter.

    The Right to “Farm” bill is another push by the state to circumvent transparency and avoid accountability. Animal welfare, protection of the environment, clean water, and a safe and healthy food supply is important to many Oklahomans including myself. It has been proven time and time again that those pushing for less oversight are the very ones who need it.

    I’m voting NO for a free ticket. How about they do away with airport security as well…we’ll just trust that no one boards with a bomb…

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