Julian Omidi discusses the “Ag-Gag” law that legally prevents animal welfare activists from gathering footage from agricultural industries, no matter how abusive or deplorable the conditions are.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mercy for Animals and other animal welfare organizations have secretly filmed the processes of animal processing plants and farms in order to monitor livestock handling practices for decades. The footage has often shocked the public to the extent that farms and plants find their contracts from major suppliers cancelled.
A new law was passed in Idaho, criminalizing undercover filming of abuse in agricultural facilities. Essentially, Idaho law is telling the world that exposing incidences of animal abuse is more of a societal threat than actually abusing animals.
Those in favor of what is called the “ag-gag” law argue that the law was put in place to protect the reputations of farmers and meat processers from being besmirched unfairly by the surreptitious gathering of information. One Republican Representative, Ken Andrus of Lava Hot Springs, insists that the goal of the law isn’t to cover up allegations of abuse, but to guarantee privacy. Said Rep. Andrus, “Do you want to live continually with the idea in the back of your mind that people may be in your yard, in your house, in your bedroom gathering information about you?” 
However, opponents of the bill are emphatic that the law not only violates First Amendment rights, but also gives the impression that the state of Idaho wants to conceal rampant animal abuse in its farms and food processing plants. Moreover, the information gathered by the infiltrators expose practices that would have otherwise remained secret from the public and law enforcement. Finally, the law makes no distinction between filmmakers who release their footage to media outlets and people who go straight to law enforcement.
In 2012, the animal welfare organization Mercy for Animals infiltrated the Bettencourt Dairy in Idaho, and filmed workers beating the livestock, dragging them by the neck using chains attached to a tractor.
Those convicted of violating the law would be imprisoned for one year, and given a $5,000 fine. By contrast, those convicted of animal abuse in Idaho are given a fine $100 – $5,000, and/or imprisoned for up to 6 months. Animal abuse is a misdemeanor violation.
Animal welfare organizations’ most potent weapon against industrial animal abuse is video footage. It is without a doubt that many agricultural industries would still be carrying on their egregious practices if they had not been filmed, and had that film broadcast across the nation. The fact that someone might be monitoring practices within agricultural centers instills the fear that improper inner workings of facilities could be broadcast, and that fear forces farmers and processers to operate according to legal and industry code.
While no one disputes the individual’s right to privacy, an organization that handles animals and processes and produces food products must be vulnerable to public scrutiny. The animals have a right to protection, and the public has a right to know how businesses that produce food maintain their facilities and their livestock, even if only for concerns about public health.
 Associated Press: Idaho gov. signs bill to jail undercover animal welfare activists Wisconsin Gazette 2/28/2014 http://www.wisconsingazette.com/trending-news/idaho-advances-bill-to-jail-undercover-animal-welfare-activists.html
 Animal Cruelty Laws By State Stray Pet Advocacy http://www.straypetadvocacy.org/PDF/AnimalCrueltyLaws.pdf