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First "Ag-Gag" Prosecution: This Utah Woman Filmed a Slaughterhouse from the Public Street

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range Page, Politics and Democracy Page and our Food Safety Research Center Page.

Amy Meyer wanted to see the slaughterhouse for herself. She had heard that anyone passing by could view the animals, so she drove to Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City, Utah, and from the side of the road she could see through the barbed-wire fence. Piles of horns littered the property. Cows struggled with workers who tried to lead them into a building. And one scene in particular made her stop.

"A live cow who appeared to be sick or injured being carried away from the building in a tractor," Meyer told me, "as though she were nothing more than rubble."

As she witnessed this, Meyer did what most of us would in the age of smart phones and YouTube: she recorded.

When the slaughterhouse manager came outside and told her to stop, she replied that she was on the public easement and had the right to film. When police arrived, she said told them the same thing. According to the police report, the manager said she was trespassing and crossed over the barbed-wire fence, but the officer noted "there was no damage to the fence in my observation."

Meyer was allowed to leave. She later found out she was being prosecuted under the state's new "ag-gag" law. This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. The legislation is a direct response to a series of shocking investigations by groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing that have led to plant closures, public outrage, and criminal charges against workers.

Even the most sweeping ag-gag bills, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation, don't explicitly target filming from a roadside. But Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont are all considering bills similar to the Utah law right now.

Pennsylvania's bill criminalizes anyone who "records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation" or who "uploads, downloads, transfers or otherwise sends" the footage using the Internet.


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