By Lisa Kauffman
In a time when consumers are demanding more information about how their families’ food is produced, why is our dairy industry in Idaho desperately trying keep us in the dark? The state’s large dairy operators are trying to force an irresponsible bill through our legislature that would make it illegal for whistleblowers to expose food safety violations or animal abuse on factory farms. Exactly what does this industry have to hide?
The answer: videos such as the one filmed during the 2012 investigation of Wendell-based Bettencourt Dairies. The footage shocked Idahoans, showing Bettencourt employees callously beating cows, twisting their tails in order to inflict pain, and dragging a downed cow by her neck with a chain hitched to a tractor. This investigation led to a manager and two employees being charged with criminal animal cruelty.
One would think the state’s dairy industry would have taken this embarrassment as an opportunity to make meaningful reforms and prevent these kinds of abuses from occurring in the future. Rather than trying to prevent future abuses from happening, they’re now trying to cover them up. And the vehicle to do that is an anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, S1337.
S1337 would make it a crime to simply audio-record or videotape abusive or otherwise unethical activities on farms. Even employees and journalists who video-record to document misconduct could face jail time if passed, whether it’s mistreatment of animals, food safety concerns, sexual harassment, embezzlement or environmental crimes.
In 2013, 15 ag-gag bills in 11 states were introduced. Corporations in the animal agriculture business figured that using their wealth, they’d be able to bully these bills into law. But they didn’t count on the pushback they experienced from lawmakers and citizens who were appalled by these attempts to trample on the First Amendment and keep people from knowing the truth. Every single one of these bills was resoundingly defeated.
These ag-gag bills have rightfully become a PR nightmare for animal agriculture. In fact, the National Pork Producers Council noted, “[w]e did a study of coverage of ‘ag-gag’ laws that found that 99 percent of the stories about it were negative.” And world-renowned meat industry consultant Temple Grandin, Ph.D., of Colorado State University declared that ag-gag bills are “the stupidest thing that ag ever did.”
Idahoans don’t condone the abusive practices uncovered at Bettencourt Dairies. And we shouldn’t let Idaho become a safe haven for a dairy industry that aims to hide their inhumane practices in the shadows. For the sake of animals, consumer health, our constitutional rights, and the future of our state’s farming communities, legislators should reject S1337.
Lisa Kauffman lives in Boise and is the Idaho state director of the Humane Society of the United States