In 2014, New Mexicans watched in horror as a whistleblower’s undercover video showed stomach-churning animal cruelty on Winchester Farm in Dexter, NM. The evidence was compelling enough that the farm shut down and four workers were charged with animal cruelty. Rather than take action to reform the industrial agriculture system to prevent abuse and suffering, well-funded corporate lobbyists are pushing anti-whistleblower (or “ag-gag”) legislation meant to silence and hinder investigations on farms.
Ag-gag bills come in various forms. One type prohibits any photo or video recordings on a farm without consent, or gaining access or employment on a farm under false pretenses. Notably, this exact type of anti-whistleblower law in Idaho was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Another type requires anyone who records activity suspected to be livestock cruelty to turn over the recording to law enforcement within 24 hours. While on the surface this sounds like an attempt to prevent animal abuse, the mandate is really meant to thwart serious investigations that can take many weeks, sometimes months, to understand the full extent of a problem. Without the ability to document patterns, the owner of an agricultural facility can inevitably claim the abuse is an isolated incident, while institutionalized cruelty continues.