Ag Gag, or Why I Dislike HB5143

Build Up (a.k.a. background info)

As Common Ground’s education coordinator, I get news updates and action alerts from lots of different organizations relating to Common Ground’s work: the Cornucopia Institute, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, C-U Fit Families, the National Cooperative Grocers Association, and more. I most recently subscribed to the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council‘s email listserv (appropriately enough, when I was working on Common Ground’s Action Alert about a local food policy council proposal), and it has been chock full of goodies – or, more accurately, goodies and baddies.

The most recent baddie is an Illinois bill amendment concerning industrial farms, like CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. You know, those animal farms you might have seen in Food, Inc., pictures of which you might see emblazoned across Mercy For Animals’ or PETA’s websites. Not good stuff, be ye carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, locavore, or other. No one wants animals to be treated like that.

So, what’s our government’s response to not only tales, but videos and photos of these unethical (and oftentimes, downright illegal) operations? Why, to amend The Animal Research and Production Facilities Protection Act. Okay, I think to myself, so this won’t be dealing with consumer protections concerning the pathogens to which animals (and their meat) are exposed, or reasserting our country’s animal abuse or rights policies. Okay. Maybe the amendment will relax the protection on CAFOs, so government investigators, or even citizen groups, could more easily visit the facilities to ensure our country’s food supply is safe, and even (gasp) ethically produced?

The Meat (so to speak)

Hahahaha! No. Of course not. The Act originally dealt with the criminality of trespass on animal facilities, and the amendment –Animal Facilities Bill HB5143– will only strengthen and reassert that position. While protections are necessary –veterinary clinics, for instance, are protected under this bill. Who would want cameramen barging in while Fluffy is under anesthesia and getting his cancer (or other things) removed?- this amendment goes way too far and would make it very difficult to find out what’s actually going on in industrial animal farms. My favorite tidbit is Section 4.3, which states that

A person commits animal facility interference when he or she, without the consent of the owner, knowingly… creates a record, while on the property of the animal facility, which reproduces by a photographic, audio or similar medium an image or sound of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility (HB5143)

Driving by a pig farm and you see raw sewage spilling out? Nope, you can’t get out and take a close-up photo. That’s an illegal criminal activity. Sorry! The next point goes on to state that simply possessing such a photo is illegal. So if your cousin Billy took a photo of the sewage spill with, say, your camera or phone, or stored the photo on your flash drive or SD card, guess what? You’re as legally liable as Billy. Such a pig farm sewage spill has all kinds of associated health effects – water poisoning, fish kills, heavy metal pollution, and my favorite, human illness, disease, and death. With no photos, Dirty Farmer Greg can say the spill originated at his neighbor Sammy’s farm, and while they have it out in the courts, the pollution continues and no one really wins. So much for consumer protections.

Just to make sure you got the point that this bill’s protecting the industrial farms, not the vast majority of the American public, the amendment includes this friendly tidbit:

Nothing in this Act shall preclude any animal facility injured in its business or property by a violation of this Act from seeking appropriate relief under any other provision of law or remedy including damages of treble the amount of actual damages(HB5143)

So not only can Dirty Farmer Greg pursue action against you as authorized in the act, but he can also sue you for three times as much as any perceived damage you have caused him or his farm. Why is that one bit underlined? Because it’s the only portion of this quotation that the amendment adds. Food for thought.

Time to Take Action

If you’d like to read the full text of the amendment for yourself, you can find it here. The Chicago Tribune also wrote an interesting article about this amendment, and the bill passed in Iowa that might have inspired it, that you can read here.

Now, this amendment is the kind of news that usually makes me sit down a whip out an Action Alert. In fact, I was going to, when I saw when the public comment period is – Monday, March 5, until Wednesday, March 7, at 8:00 am. So, today’s the day, folks – we’ve got less than 24 hours left in which to comment. We’ve got CGFC emails going out almost every day this week (it’s nearing the end of owner loan time, let’s hussle!), so there’s no space for an Action Alert about this today. (However, I’ve got one on a different issue coming out this Saturday – make sure to check your inbox then!)

I do appreciate that, even if we the American –specifically Illinoisan– public can’t attend the hearing on the amendment, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard: Illinois’ new online Witness Slips program. You can go HERE to fill out a slip on this amendment, and you can be sure that as soon as I finish this blog post, that’s what I’m gonna do. And I’m going to put it on Common Ground’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and my personal ones, too. Good chunks of this amendment, HB5143, are wholly offensive to the American public as both individuals and an entity that participate in a democratic system and that deserve transparency about our food supply. Make sure you spread the word.


Edit: Here’s another tidbit for the curious – see if you can find how the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President links the Iowa version of this bill to decreased terrorism risk. When in doubt, shout “terrorism!” The quote is in this article.