Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nation's First Ag-Gag Bill Needs To Be Stopped!

Imagine with me, if you will, your favorite restaurant. A place you enjoy eating on a regular basis. Now suppose that a reporter comes in while you are dining there and asks the manager for a tour of the kitchen. Upon hearing this request, the manager becomes irate, telling the reporter that she has no business looking into his kitchen, there is nothing there for the reporter to see, go away and don’t EVER come back!!! Then, let’s say that a few weeks later, you are watching the local news and you see an undercover investigative story about that same restaurant! Only this time, the reporter sent in someone else, someone who entered under false pretenses, someone who went into the restaurant with a hidden camera, someone disguised as the new employee hired to wash dishes. While there under cover of employment, the dishwasher discovers deplorable conditions in the kitchen: it is rat infested, the food is past the expiration dates and not stored properly, roaches scurry across countertops and dart behind open containers of food, and employee hygiene is completely lacking. Now let’s say that following this news cast, your city passes a new law that affects restaurants. That’s good right? This undercover investigation brings to light a horrible health risk taking place right under your very nose, it’s horrible, thank goodness there will now be better laws to protect you as a consumer! Nope. Sorry. The new law doesn’t protect you as a consumer. This new law protects the restaurant owner. This new law prohibits anyone from entering his kitchen under false pretenses ever again. This new law means that no other restaurant in town will ever need to worry about being infiltrated and exposed. No other restaurant owner in town ever needs to worry about suffering such an embarrassment and financial loss over something so trivial as the health of its employees and patrons. How would you feel about your formerly favorite restaurant? How would you feel about the new law set up for the sole purpose of protecting such places? How would you feel to know that your health means little when compared to the restaurant owners and the influence they wield?

I don’t know about you, but I would not react well to such a development. And I paint this little picture, because that is EXACTLY what is going on right now. Well, not exactly, this law protects agricultural businesses, not restaurants, but it affects a significant portion of the nation’s food system. Iowa has passed the nation’s first Ag Gag Law. There are a number of these floating about in different states at different stages of passage, but this is the first to await signage into law. The bill currently sits on the governor’s desk and I would ask each of you to consider contacting him. I sent the following message this morning:

Dear Governor Branstad,
You currently have a bill on your desk, House File 589, which I respectfully ask you to consider NOT signing. As the nation's first Ag-Gag bill, you will be setting a strong and destructive precedent for future bills throughout this country that would seek to provide unconstitutional protection for agribusinesses at the expense of consumer safety and the humane treatment of animals.
Any industry that actively seeks to keep its operations hidden from the view of the public is an industry that needs to be brought into the light, not afforded special protections. Though I am not a citizen of your great state, the large number of hog farms that would be protected by this legislation directly affects me as a consumer.
I am not comfortable with any aspect of our national food system being afforded this level of protection and secrecy. Again, I respectfully ask that you not sign this bill. It is, at the very least, deserving of a public debate... anything less gives the strong appearance that big agriculture can just buy legislation that works in its favor.
LeeAnna Tatum

These Ag-Gag bills make it illegal to enter an agricultural facility under false pretenses, some states even have bills in progress that make it illegal to take unauthorized pictures of agricultural facilities, and punish whistle-blowers. Now, I ask you… does this sound like a law that is in the best interest of citizens and consumers, or lobbyists and big agriculture? I can promise you that the farm, down the road where I get my pork doesn’t care who sees their operation, they would welcome picture taking, and even offer tours. Why? Because they have nothing to hide. There is nothing there that they are ashamed for you to see. Why is big agriculture pushing these Ag-Gag bills? Because they do not want you to see how they operate. They know that if the public saw what conditions are really like, they would lose consumers. They don’t want you to see what is going on in the kitchen…. doesn’t that make you want to know why?????  

Iowa may be only one state, but it has one of the highest percentages of hog farms in the nation (can’t put my finger on the stats with the exact number right at the moment), so chances are quite good that if you purchase pork (any pork product) from the grocery store, you are a consumer of Iowa agriculture. This issue is relevant to you.

You are the consumer. You have EVERY right to know what is going on behind closed doors at these facilities. You should know. You need to know. It’s about facing your food and holding the producers of that food accountable. These laws are attempting to prohibit you from doing just that.

I encourage you to contact Governor Branstad of Iowa and let him know that you do not want the agribusinesses of his state to receive extra protection at the expense of, you, the consumer.  Here is the link for contacting him should you choose to do so:

Here is a link to the bill itself, should you want to read it. It really is frightening. This bill is sickening in its transparency... it doesn't even pretend to be something that protects or benefits the general public... every aspect of it is clearly to protect the corporation against any attempt to hold them accountable for actionable offenses. The entire purpose of this bill is to make any individual who brings things to light that could end up costing the company money be held liable as a CRIMINAL for the financial damages. No other industry is afforded that kind of protection. And NO industry should be afforded it. 

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