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Troubled Slaughter: Big Ag Fights to Keep out Prying Eyes

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range Page.

There's a Paul McCartney quote popular with veg-heads: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." It may not be quite as simple as all that, but he's definitely got a point.

For a little over 10 years, groups such as Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and Compassion Over Killing have conducted undercover investigations into abuses and rules violations on factory farms, and publicized what they've documented to lobby for change.

It's worked: Individualcampaigns have resulted in business closures, criminal charges, and even broader changes in social behavior. That has got Big Animal Ag scared.

So it has done what Big Ag does best: crafted legislation and lobbied for it. State farm-protection laws, or "ag-gags," as The New York Times' Mark Bittman lovingly called them, come in many different forms, mixing various combinations of restrictions on undercover filming and activist access to farms and slaughterhouses. Some of the laws give a nod to the value of whistleblowers but require that damning footage be handed over to law enforcement within a day or two, immediately blowing the cover of investigations that would typically last from two to six weeks.

Though they're now enjoying a flurry of attention, these laws aren't actually new.

"These ag-gag bills are really an extension of a pattern of conduct by these corporations that began more than 20 years ago," says Will Potter, journalist and author of Green is the New Red.

Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota each passed less restrictive versions of these laws between 1990 and 1991, when the Animal Liberation Front was running around in balaclavas, freeing animals on fur farms, and smashing butcher shops. In 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, boosting penalties for these crimes at the federal level.
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