We all saw the footage: A Rutgers basketball coach was caught on tape during a team practice hitting, kicking and cursing at his student players. The result: several firings and condemnation from the basketball world and beyond.
Now imagine that rather than condemning the abusive coach, the NCAA instead tries to pass a law criminalizing videotaping team practices.
As absurd as that is, that’s exactly what the animal agriculture industry is trying to do.
In recent years, we’ve seen numerous whistleblowing exposés by groups like The Humane Society of the United States documenting rampant animal abuse and food safety problems in our nation’s meat, egg and dairy industries. These investigations have led to criminal cruelty convictions, meat recalls, slaughter plant shut-downs and also led to adoption of retail policies to improve animal welfare in company food chains.
The animal production industry’s response? Insidiously, it hasn’t been to try to prevent the abuses from occurring. Rather, it’s been to try to prevent the American people simply from finding out about these abuses in the first place. In short: the meat industry wants to blow the whistle on the whistleblower.
The animal agriculture industry is pushing whistleblower-suppression legislation commonly known as “ag-gag” bills in numerous states to keep the veil of secrecy shrouded around itself. At a time when Americans want to know more about where their food is coming from, the meat industry’s response is to just say “no.”
The bills, which range from criminalizing photo-taking at animal factories to requiring whistleblowers to blow their cover and “out” themselves nearly immediately, have been defeated in most states where they’ve been introduced. But in others, like Utah and Iowa, the agribusiness industry has succeeded in essentially criminalizing these vital exposés.
You know that an industry has a lot to hide when it wants to make it a crime to document what it’s doing. Just as we’d never stand for allowing abusive coaches to continue mistreating their players behind closed doors, we shouldn’t tolerate allowing the meat industry to operate with even less transparency than it does now.
Paul Shapiro is vice president of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States. Follow him at https://twitter.com/pshapiro.