I originally posted this 08/01/2014
Undercover journalist filming at Smithfield Foods industrial pork operations … ag-gag laws are not only making this type of reporting illegal, but are classifying it as a form of terrorism. (Photo credit: HSUS)
" Ag-gag is coming to Australia because animal advocates have been incredibly effective. "
" New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson has said undercover investigators are “akin to terrorists”. "
" FBI files have revealed that the government has even considered prosecuting those who film animal cruelty as “terrorists”. "
" West Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, and a number Australian federal politicians, have voiced support for US-style ag-gag laws. "
Now, this is spreading to Australia.
- read it here - Australian Government Considers Copying U.S. Ag-Gag Laws to Turn Animal Activists into Terrorists
Will Potter is a journalist and TED Fellow based in Washington, DC. He is the author of Green Is the New Red. He is on a speaking tour for Voiceless, the animal protection institute, at Australian universities and law firms. For more information.
When Amy Meyer saw a sick cow being pushed by a bulldozer outside a slaughterhouse, she did what any of us would in this age of iPhones and Instagram - she filmed it.
Meyer, 25, knew it was not only cruel, it was a public safety risk.
Similar video footage had resulted in the largest meat recall in US history, when it was revealed that cows too sick to walk were being fed to school children as part of the national school lunch program.
Instead of being praised for exposing this, Meyer was prosecuted.
Even though she stood on public property, she was charged with violating a new law in Utah that makes it illegal to photograph or videotape factory farms and slaughterhouses.
This was the first prosecution of its kind in the United States, but if the agriculture industry has its way, it won't be the last.
"Ag-gag" laws have spread rapidly, and today half a dozen states have made it illegal to film factory farms.
Now, the agriculture industry wants to bring ag-gag to Australia.
This legislation is a direct response to undercover investigations by animal welfare groups, which have exposed horrific animal cruelty.
For example, in Idaho this year, an undercover investigator with Mercy For Animals exposed workers beating, kicking and sexually abusing cows at Bettencourt dairy.
In response, the dairy industry supported SB 1337, an ag-gag bill that prohibits any "audio or video recording" at a farm facility.
It punishes those who expose animal abuse more harshly than those who commit the violence. The bill passed into law just weeks ago.
Time and again, wherever undercover investigators expose cruelty, the industry fights back with attempts to keep consumers in the dark.
Why? Because when people see the reality of factory farming, they demand change. For instance, one of the nation's largest egg producers testified during an ag-gag hearing that, after an undercover video was posted online, 50 businesses quickly called and stopped buying their eggs.
And, according to the first study of its kind, published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics, when animal welfare issues are reported in the news, consumers respond by eating less meat.
Factory farmers have been so desperate to silence their critics that they have even called investigators "terrorists".
Senator David Hinkins, the sponsor of Utah's ag-gag bill, said it was needed to stop "terrorists" such as "the vegetarian people” who “are trying to kill the animal industry".
This terrorism rhetoric has worked its way to the top levels of government.
FBI files have revealed that the government has even considered prosecuting those who film animal cruelty as "terrorists".
Now, this is spreading to Australia.
New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson has said undercover investigators are "akin to terrorists".
West Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, and a number Australian federal politicians, have voiced support for US-style ag-gag laws.
Ag-gag is coming to Australia because animal advocates have been incredibly effective.
There is a long history of open rescues and undercover investigations here, and activists such as Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria are known internationally for their pioneering work.
Meanwhile, national media exposes such as Four Corners' "A Bloody Business" have outraged the public and created a national dialogue about live exports.
Australians have an opportunity that we lacked in the United States: you can stop these dangerous proposals before they ever become law.
If there is one thing I have learnt in my reporting on ag-gag laws, it is the power of an informed public to create change.
Amy Meyer stands as an example of that power. Just 24 hours after I broke the story of her prosecution, it had created such an uproar that prosecutors announced they were simplydropping all charges.
Meyer had never intended to face prosecution, or to lead by example, but she rose to the occasion. Australia has the power to do the same.
" Every industry including those that maintain and manage extensive animal operations should be transparent.
NSW RSPCA CEO Steve Coleman "
RSPCA warns against 'ag-gag' laws that would make it illegal for animal rights activists to secretly film on farms
The RSPCA says a legal crackdown against animal activists could backfire.
South Australia is introducing legislation that would make it illegal for animal rights activists to secretly film on farms, unless a court ruled the images were in the public interest.
So-called 'ag-gag laws' have already been introduced in some parts of the United States.
The chief executive of the New South Wales RSPCA, Steve Coleman, has told Landline the laws could create the impression that "the industry has something to hide".
"Our belief is that's not the case, but I think there's a lot more discussion that needs to occur."
Industry groups such as Australian Pork Limited are pushing for the tougher laws, arguing that many producers have been traumatised by farm raids and secret filming.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has recently said he would do everything in his power to advance moves by the states to ensure illegal trespass activity was outlawed.
But Mr Coleman says such moves could have unintended consequences.
"The divide between city dwellers and those that live the country ... is getting wider and wider," he said.
"One of the challenges around that is that we believe... every industry including those that maintain and manage extensive animal operations should be transparent."
While rejecting tougher legal sanctions, the RSPCA is nevertheless critical of animal rights groups giving footage of alleged welfare breaches to the media before reporting the incidents to authorities.
"Our concern is always that by the time we receive these sorts of pieces of information... there's some time between when this activity occurred and when its actually reported, " Mr Coleman said.
"Our experience is that it (non-reporting of welfare breaches) is increasing perhaps in the last couple of years - some of it can be put down to new technology.
"Any person that is concerned about the treatment of any animal should bring that before one of the regulators including the RSPCA."
The association admits that covert filming has led to successful prosecutions. However, it also dismisses claims made by animal rights groups of common and systemic welfare breaches in animal intensive industries.
"Our view is that by and large these sorts of incidents are in the minority," Mr Coleman said.
"Of all the investigation that we undertake about 1 per cent end up before the courts.
"Farmers have a right to undertake legal business operations - that's only right."