Six states are considering bills by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that would make it illegal for people to film animal abuse at factory farms or lie on job applications with hopes of getting into the factories to observe the conditions.
“The meat industry’s response to these exposes has not been to try to prevent these abuses from taking place, but rather it’s really just been to prevent Americans from finding out about those abuses in the first place,” said Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States. “What they’re doing is trying to pass laws throughout the country that don’t just shoot the messenger, they seek to imprison the messenger.”
The proposed bills also state that people with evidence of animal abuse turn it over to law enforcement within 48 hours or face financial penalties. Some of the bills also make it a crime to lie on slaughterhouse job applications, as activists commonly do this so they can get footage.
These bills are spreading across the U.S. with the help of ALEC, a conservative business advocacy group that wants lawmakers to “exchange legislative ideas from state to state.” They are being considered in California, Nebraska, Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. Three other states have rejected similar bills, including New Mexico, New Hampshire and Wyoming.
A few states already implemented similar laws after animal rights activists released shocking videos of animal abuse in slaughterhouses. Critics of the videos have called it propagandists.
One video from an Iowa factory, filmed by a group called Mercy for Animals, prompted the state to support a “Ag-Gag” law that makes it illegal to lie in order to obtain access to farms and slaughterhouses. It is now considered a misdemeanor, resulting in one year in prison and a fine of $1,500. Utah also passed a similar law banning unauthorized photography in farms.
“This, I think, this is a good example of just how much this industry has to hide,” Shapiro said. “You know you’ve got a lot to hide when you want to make it a crime merely to take a photo of what you are doing.”
But ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling thinks of it as more of a privacy concern.
“At the end of the day it’s about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy,” he said. “You wouldn’t want me coming into your home with a hidden camera.”