Don’t Gag all the Ag-Gag

Although it’s currently hard to believe now, my family had a farrow-to-finish hog operation until I was 10 or so. After that, we continued to raise feeder pigs (if nothing else for the many red-ribbon-winning (i.e., strictly average) 4-H hogs my siblings and I exhibited each year) — so it’s fair to say that I spent most of my formative years scooping poop.

While my parents called my familiarity with a shovel “character-building” – I also came to take a lot of pride in how our hogs were treated. I remember the distinct sense of accomplishment I had while walking to the house during blizzards after spending hours making sure our hogs were warm, secure and well-fed.

Me with one of my red-ribbon-winning beauties

It’s those same nurturing feelings that hurt the most whenever Mercy for Animals or the Humane Society of America release another one of the under-cover videos showing the torture and abuse of livestock. I typically make it about 60 seconds in before I have to click out and hold my stomach and try (most of the time in vain) to hold my tears back.

I cry at those videos like a girl who has never seen a sow suffocate one of her own by laying on it, never seen a pig castrated, or never seen what happens to pigs that don’t have their tails docked when they’re young.

But the truth is, I have seen those things – and they help me understand, that although raising livestock isn’t glamorous, that vast majority of the 2.2 million family-farmers in this country care so much about their animals that these videos make them cry, too.

Here in Nebraska, winter was never-ending this year, and I read, this time with tears of joy, during calving-season this spring of ranchers West of me taking new-born calves into their kitchens to give them a fighting chance. I talked with neighbors who pulled consecutive all-nighters helping their cows give birth to calves in 10 inches of snow with 30-mile-an-hour winds.

And so, as much as I’d like to agree that these animal activist videos are about helping animals, the fact is that it’s not the simple. These videos, more often than not, fuel a larger anti-meat, pro-vegan diet that I respect, but don’t agree with. These videos make family farmers like my community and me guilty before we even have a chance to speak. These videos are edited and manipulated to dramatize practices that although not glamorous, are sometimes legal practices recommended by very respected animal welfare experts.

Many of these same animal welfare experts have written in support in what the media has dubbed “ag gag” legislation.

Although this legislation varies from state to state, the intent is to prevent animal activist groups from mischaracterizing all farmers and making sure that when animals are being abused, that the abuser is brought to justice quickly. While the legislation varies from state to state, some of the components of these bills include:

  • making it illegal for someone to take pictures or record video on private property of livestock without the owner’s consent.
  • Requiring that images documenting animal abuse to be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours.
  • Making it illegal to seek employment at farms under false pretenses

Legislation passed in 2012 in Iowa, Utah and Missouri, and so far in 2013, 10 states have introduced “ag-gag” legislation. While I don’t personally agree with some of the components of these bills (they vary widely from state to state), I do believe they should be carefully considered (this Duke professor has an idea worth pondering.)

I get why these videos have become successful and popular in the animal activist community. I understand the outrage at what these videos show, because I feel it myself, and I don’t condone animal abuse in any way, shape, or form. However, I think it’s important to understand that the intent of these videos isn’t always about the animals themselves, but about pushing an agenda.

Image source: greenisthenewred.com

 The New York Times editorial board recently said that “The legislation has only one purpose: to hide factory-farming conditions from a public that is beginning to think seriously about animal rights and the way food is produced.”

I disagree, New York Times. This legislation is about providing the public balanced and accurate information about the animal agriculture. There’s nothing to hide, the footage just doesn’t need to be edited and dramatized by those with an agenda. I don’t believe for a minute that these videos represent the animal agriculture industry. And neither should you.

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