Perhaps the ugliest form of fascism may be found in the marriage of government and corporations. Throw in the specter of terrorism and you have quite a potent method of subjugating the masses. The realm of food is no exception.
Idaho recently joined eight other states—Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Montana, Kansas, and South Carolina—to pass “Ag Gag” laws that criminalize the act of exposing public health dangers and animal rights abuses. If a person records pictures or film at animal facilities, including factory farms that supply most U.S. meat, that person can be prosecuted under state law. These laws are modeled after a corporate-produced document called “Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America.”
How did such an obscene thing come to be? There is a little-known but powerful group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that introduces model bills in states across the country on behalf of its corporate members.
Several agribusiness corporations and organizations have been funders of ALEC such as Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and the National Pork Producers Council. As with other powerful industry groups like oil and gas or Big Pharma, ALEC seeks to dismantle consumer rights using the power of state government.
ALEC drafted the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America” model bill just two years after 9/11, capitalizing on the fear of terrorism that was being stoked by government and media. The model bill goes so far as to compare “extreme animal rights activists and environmental militants” to al-Qaida. It would put people on an actual Terrorist Registry for taking undercover pictures and films that “defame the facility or its owner.” Pennsylvania’s proposed law even criminalizes those who download such material over the internet.
Most people would dismiss the ludicrous notion that health and animal rights activists with cameras are the same as those who blow up innocent people for political reasons.
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Consider the undercover video of a McDonald’s chicken producer in 2011, where employees were shown viciously abusing chickens. McDonald’s promptly fired that producer when this was exposed. Consider the secret taping in 2006 of “downer cows” being forklifted to the meat processor. Downer cows are potential carriers of mad cow disease, yet this facility was shoving them in line for packaging. As a result of that video, the largest meat recall in U.S. history took place.
Are these people acting as terrorists when they expose dangers to our food system or hateful people abusing animals?
Since 2010, “Ag Gag” laws based on ALEC’s model bill have been passed in six states. They have been defeated in 12 states, but that does not mean ALEC and its corporate backers won’t try again.
The first Ag Gag prosecution occurred in 2013 in Utah. Amy Meyer filmed a live cow being hauled away in a bulldozer at a slaughterhouse. She was doing this from a public street. The facility owner confronted her and then called the cops. After bravely standing up to both owner and police officer she was allowed to go, only to find out later that she was being charged under Utah’s Ag Gag law. However, when this case was publicized in the media, the charges were promptly dropped.
Wired Magazine details how passage of these Ag Gag laws threatens the already dubious safety of the industrial food system and covers up environmental calamities like manure lagoons leaching into water supplies. There is a notorious lack of oversight at factory farms, and activists fill that role.
Ag Gag laws do more than simply cloak industry from scrutiny. They are a direct assault on the rights of citizens, based on the implication that non-violent activism for public health or animal rights is a terrorist activity.