Starting in the 1990s, The HSUS and a range of organizational partners launched statewide ballot initiatives to halt inhumane and unpopular practices – like cockfighting, bear baiting, extreme confinement of farm animals, puppy mills and the use of steel-jawed leghold traps – and lawmakers aligned with animal-use industries didn’t like that one bit. After blocking common-sense animal welfare reforms in their state legislatures, they tried to amend their state constitutions to make it difficult or impossible for citizen initiatives that help animals to be conducted or passed.
Among other tactics, they tried to shorten the time frame for signature gathering (to make it virtually impossible for volunteers to collect enough signatures); sought to impose requirements that a minimum number of signatures had to come from the most rural counties (to create a practical impossibility for volunteers to gather signatures since people are so dispersed in rural areas); and even moved to create a supermajority passage requirement (charging ahead with the notion that it was fine for politicians to be elected with a plurality or a bare majority, but that for animal issues to be considered, we had to have a three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority). It was the height of hypocrisy, and a subversion of democratic principles. Some of these efforts to gut the ballot initiative process succeeded, making direct democracy virtually unusable for animal advocates in states such as Florida and Utah. And they’re still at it today, these legislators – with anti-initiative proposals aimed at making direct democracy unworkable in Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota and other states.
An HSUS undercover investigation at the Hallmark Meat
Packing Co. led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.
Today, these forces are unhappy with a different tactic employed by The HSUS and other organizations. With the exposure of abusive and illegal practices on factory farms through undercover investigations, lawmakers in lockstep with agribusiness groups are now trying to make it a crime to take video or pictures of animals on farms, or trying to impose requirements that video be turned over to law enforcement authorities almost immediately upon access to a facility. They are pushing so-called “ag-gag laws,” or anti-whistleblower measures, and this weekend, both ABC News and the Associated Press exposed this effort to wall off factory farms to unauthorized individuals. You can watch the ABC piece here.
Let’s remember that many of the farm groups backing these ag-gag measures also oppose any animal welfare standards. They don’t want citizens to vote on animal welfare measures. And now they don’t want the public to see what’s going on. Yet here’s an industry that should be of keen interest to every American. All Americans need to eat, and most of them want to know that there are food safety and animal welfare standards. The truth is, federal oversight on food safety is lax, and when it comes to animal welfare, it’s basically non-existent. With budget cuts for food safety inspections on the horizon, we need more eyes on our food system, not fewer.
Newspapers throughout the country are calling these reckless and unjustifiable efforts into question. Regarding the Indiana ag-gag law, which passed the state Senate 30 to 20, the Muncie Star Press wrote, “People have a right to know where their food comes from. There are not enough inspectors to keep tabs on what’s happening on every farm. That’s why citizens and the news media must take on the duty of watchdog. This bill would thwart the flow of needed information by throwing a cloak of secrecy around an activity that farmers, at least those who have nothing to hide, ought to be proud to show off.”
We really must wonder why the agribusiness groups are so afraid of the public getting an unauthorized look. Their claims about “doctored’ footage distributed by animal welfare groups are a fabrication. Our own investigations have uncovered legal and illegal cruelty, led to meat recalls and the shutdown of slaughter plants and helped to secure the arrest of perpetrators. Rather than blame The HSUS for exposing these gaps or transgressions in the food production system, it would be best to work for laws to protect animals, to train workers, and to show the public how this industry goes about its work.
If the agribusinesses groups continue to push for these measures, they will continue to see erosion in public support. They are taking stands at odds with core American values – opposing efforts to crack down on cruelty, and aligning themselves against free speech, democratic decision-making, and transparency.