You don’t find what you’re not looking for, or so the saying goes.
NOTE: Big Ag is the common term used to refer to the various large corporations behind industrial agriculture in the U.S.
Sympathetic legislators have helped make sure no one finds anything out of the ordinary in any of these facilities - they’ve made it as close to illegal as possible for people to even look at these operations.
We only have whistleblowers to thank for what we do know. Over the years, brave people have come forward and revealed dangerous and unhealthy conditions in industrial animal agriculture facilities.
This goes all the way back to the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
In this important book, Sinclair disclosed the harsh reality inside Chicago’s meatpacking plants in the early 1900’s. And since then, whistleblowers have found their way inside industrial factory farms and revealed equally, if not worse, animal welfare abuses, horrific working conditions, and countless food safety violations.
As we continue to grapple with the mess that has become our food industry, one question comes to the forefront:
Do factory farms confine animals indoors so the public isn’t able to see what is going on inside?
Thousands of pigs confined to gestation crates, hundreds of thousands of de-beaked chickens unable to walk, dairy cows standing in a slurry of their own manure-- these conditions violate our sensibilities-- and occasionally our laws.
And this is a Big Threat to Big Ag.
Over the past several decades, more and more whistleblowers and undercover investigations have alerted the public to the atrocities happening behind these closed doors.
We’re talking really gruesome Okja-esque scenarios:
- Sick or “downed” cows being abused in order to force them to walk to slaughter-- most recently at a dairy farm in Wisconsin.
- Caged chickens alongside rotting corpses of dead hens at one of the largest egg suppliers in the country.
- Hogs being “whipped, kicked and beaten” on factory farms in Illinois.
These conditions are disgusting instances of animal abuse, and they also pose a great risk to public health, our food supply, and the environment.
The False Solution
Here’s the real kicker: Big Ag has so much influence over our elected officials that their profits trump the safety of our food supply. Instead of fixing unhealthy, unethical, or inhumane conditions, several states have instead criminalized whistleblowing-- so that it’s even less likely these abuses would ever be brought to light. “Ag-gag” laws punish whistleblowers from disclosing conditions within industrial agricultural facilities.
This legislation has been defeated in over 20 states, but it’s been enacted in 11. Of these, laws have been struck down in three (Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming) and are currently being challenged in Iowa and North Carolina.
North Carolina’s law is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of any private entity, including nursing homes and daycare centers. Food & Water Watch is a plaintiff, being represented by Public Justice, in the challenge to North Carolina’s law along with eight other animal welfare, press freedom, food safety, and government watchdog groups.
A federal district court recently threw out our lawsuit due to a lack of standing, but just this week the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the lawsuit can go forward, reversing the decision of the federal district court.
The Real Solution is to Ban Factory Farms
The problems with industrial factory farms go on and on. We’ll continue to challenge ag-gag laws-- they’re unconstitutional and they violate first amendment rights to draw attention to the harms of industrial agriculture.
But ag-gag laws are just the tip of the iceberg.
The real solution to this problem is to get rid of factory farms entirely, and that’s why we’re calling on elected officials at all levels of government to take steps to overhaul our food system. We need equitable and sustainable public policy in order to fundamentally change the the way we produce food in the U.S., and that starts with a ban on factory farms.