October 11, 2019 by Sara Harper, LHC Student Intern


Three years ago, I got obsessed with where meat comes from. Kip Anderson’s exposé “Cowspiracy”had come out a few years prior and, while sensationalized, it gave me a passion for something that enveloped environment, policy, and justice. Since then, I’ve written several academic pieces on the factory farming industry and adjusted my purchasing habits away from supporting industrialized farms. Do I sound like PETA yet? Throughout my research I’ve consistently addressed the issue from a human and environmental health point of view, with animal rights being a positive outcome of the latter. My reasoning for this is to steer my point away from sensationalizing the animal cruelty involved, in favor of a health-based approach to this problematic industry.

Quick background: Factory farming, or intensive livestock farming, is a sector of the Agriculture indAg-GagAcrossAmerica_ReportCover.jpgustry that relies on overcrowding animals and assembly-line style production in order to maximize meat output. These facilities have large negative impacts on the surrounding environment including: Water source contamination, greenhouse gas production, and deforestation, and so many other issues.

Okay now you’re caught up. These things are bad, right? So, who’s fighting the good fight? Well...

In the past two decades, “Big Ag” has proposed laws in states across the country that criminalize the efforts of whistleblowers in the industry. These laws have been coined “Ag-Gags” because, by nature, they silence those who intend to call out the harm done by intensive livestock farms. Alabama passed their own Ag-Gag bill in 2002, which makes it a felony offense to obtain access to a property “by false pretenses” and to possess records obtained by deception. This law was directly related to an increase in environmental advocates performing undercover investigations on factory farms under the pretense of employment.

So why is this important? The agricultural industry in America is a high grossing source of income and production but is, by all accounts, necessary. However, powerful, money intensive industries like factory farming have little government oversight when it comes to their environmental health impacts. These production facilities are known to under-report incidents like waste spills and romanticize the idea of their farms to consumers. In this industry, whistle blowers in the media and advocacy groups are the only people holding these companies accountable for their actions. Ag-Gag bills seek to make it virtually impossible to report on factory farms in order to reduce the amount of incriminating information leaking out of their facilities.

I know what you’re thinking... “What can I do?” As consumers,it’s up to us to consume responsibly. Using your purchasing power to opt for humanely farmed meat shows that you do not condone the actions of this negligent polluting industry. All in all, the future for defeating Ag-Gags looks bright. As of June 2019, 3 states have declared Ag-Gag policies unconstitutional, ruling that the laws infringe upon freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Seventeen other states have blocked such bills from ever being passed.