We already got a taste of it last year, but according to Food Safety News, Big Ag has revamped its legislative strategy for 2014 when it comes to silencing whistleblowers. As evidenced by the defeat of all 11 anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills in 2013, it’s clear that the states won’t allow the animal agriculture industry to explicitly criminalize individuals who utilize undercover video or images to expose wrongdoing on industrial farms.
Big Ag’s solution? Focus instead on mandatory reporting provisions. “If you see something, you should say something; it’s that simple,” said Animal Agriculture Alliance representative Kay Johnson Smith.
From what we’ve seen at FIC, Smith is clearly misguided. Two points:
First, the fact remains that USDA employees and private agriculture industry workers alike face routine retaliation when they report problems through internal channels. Rather than addressing their concerns, supervisors often ignore concerns and thereafter apply other forms of harassment to keep them quiet (USDA inspector Jim Schrier was moved to work at a different slaughter facility more than 120 miles away after reporting humane handling violations).
Second, public image is important in the meat and poultry industry. If Big Ag can take away undercover video and force workers to report problems immediately, companies can control both the information and how would-be messengers are perceived.
In an NPR story last year, FIC Director Amanda Hitt explained how these short reporting deadlines (such as a 48-hour time limit) are merely “a new twist to stop people from compiling information.”
From the article:
According to Hitt, in order to prove that a serious animal abuse problem is occurring, undercover investigators must gather lengthy documentation. “You can’t prove that animal abuse is systemic and recurring through one snapshot or video of an abused cow,” she says.
FIC and our coalition partners also released a statement last July that explained Ag Gag bills’ new, yet problematic language:
Mandatory reporting provisions became more common in the most recent legislative sessions, and while on their face appear to support prosecution of abuse, actually hinder meaningful and effective investigations by mandating reporting before adequate documentation can occur.
The language might be different than before, but the endgame is the same: silencing whistleblowers.
Learn more about Ag Gag legislation and help us fight these desperate attacks on transparency in 2014!
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.