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Silencing Whistleblowers in the Agricultural Sector - Meet the "Ag-gag" Bills

posted Apr 24, 2012, 10:06 AM by Cardozo NLG
"Unauthorized tampering with a farm animal...”! Such is the absurd and nearly comical language used in a bill recently introduced to the New York State Assembly, backed by animal farm factories and lobbyists. The bill is part of similar efforts in other states officially seeking to criminalize unauthorized photography, video or audio recording without a farm owner's written consent, however with the real intent being to eliminate whistle-blowers who have successfully revealed the horrendous conditions and treatment of cows, pigs and hens at our nations farm factories.

On April 17th several Cardozo NLG students participated in an event at Cardozo School of Law. The first of two speakers, Cody Carlson, is a 2nd year student at Brooklyn Law School who worked two years undercover at several industrial animal farms, wearing a hidden camera every day. Cody highlighted that the use of video recording is one of the most effective means to address the current conditions, in light of the complete failure of the USDA to effectively regulate those factories. He noted that if the so-called “Ag-gag” (Agriculture Gag) bill now pending had been law when he was undercover, he and others like him would probably be in jail today, and, most critically, much of the public and the USDA would be largely unaware of some of the widespread abusive practices

Having worked at the nation's largest dairy producer Cody noted that these farms do not constitute “a few rotten eggs, they ARE the whole basket”, saying that horrendous and unsanitary conditions are the norm and not the exception, as otherwise claimed by the industry. Cody ended by stating that this issue, in addition to being about ethics and our collective treatment of other living beings, is also about democracy, highlighting the overwhelming role that the animal farm industry plays in drafting these bills – and he asked: “Do we want our political process to be dominated by big corporations and their spending power?

The second speaker, Bina Ahmad, is a NYC-based civil rights attorney and animal rights advocate. (Bina will be honored at this year's annual NYC-NLG Spring Fling on June 1st for her tireless coordinating work representing OWS protesters.) Bina compared the portrayal of animal rights advocates by society in general to prior vilification efforts like McCarthyism and Cointelpro, where Americans were labeled as terrorists for their politics. She noted how, today, individuals gathering food from garbage dumps in Los Angeles have been labeled “food terrorists” by media outlets. Furthermore she noted that animal rights advocacy is not fully accepted within the progressive left, and that many of the arguments previously used to suppress and delay steps toward equality within gender, race and religion, are used to suppress animal rights today, with the typical argument being that other issues are more pressing right now than animal rights are. Bina argued that “we must reposition our rhetoric to be anti-oppression” in order to move away from compartmentalizing our struggles.

At Q&A an audience member observed that one thing law students in particular can do to counter the political influence and spending power of large corporations is to simply talk en masse to our legislators. She said that “legislators love to talk to law-students”. Maybe we should try that?

The event was co-sponsored by Cardozo's Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, American Constitution Society, and National Lawyer's Guild Chapters, and was moderated by Dan Levey, 2L, of Cardozo School of Law.

By Marco Conner

CLICK HERE to see a VIDEO by the Humane Society documenting the horrendous conditions at animal farm factories.

CLICK HERE to see the not-so-funny yet still absurdly comical “Ag-gag” bill introduced in the New York State Assembly. How does one "tamper with a farm animal" anyway, and how could any such tampering be any worse than the current treatment of those animals? The bill in the NY State Assembly actually attempts to answer this question.