It all started with the AEPA – the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. The brilliant lobbyists were able to convince congress that animal enterprises – mink farms, slaughterhouses, factory farms and the like – were under siege and in need of special protections. The bill created enhanced penalties for criminal activity aimed at animal enterprises.
The next step was to label it “animal enterprise terrorism,” and to measure terrorism not by people maimed or killed, but by profits lost. The law was renamed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006, making penalties more severe, expanding the range of protected businesses and criminalizing even non-violent civil disobedience and other classic protest activity.
With the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Chamber of Commerce, these animal enterprises have found fertile ground in the states for legislation we call “Ag-gag” or anti-whistleblower bills. Anti-whistleblower bills effectively block anyone from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, poor working conditions, and more, by way of the following:
- Banning taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission,
- Essentially making it a crime for an investigator to get work at a factory farm, or
- Requiring mandatory reporting with impossibly short timelines so that no pattern of abuse can be documented.
Bills have been introduced in at least 11 states this year. It should come as no surprise that other industries look at these bills and want in on the action, so in a number of states the protected enterprises include timber, fracking, mining and other industries. A bill is moving through the North Carolina state legislature would criminalize whistle-blowing across all industries in the state, from factory farms to nursing homes and day care centers. A pair of bills has been introduced in Oregon to specifically protect the timber industry by creating excessive penalties for actions like tree-sitting or chaining ones-self to a back hoe, and allowing timber companies to sue for lost profits (again, it’s all about profit).
The rhetoric surrounding these bills generally includes a healthy dose of the word ‘terrorist.’ Although DDF rarely works on state legislation, we have worked to defeat these measures in general and in North Carolina in particular.
Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill Senator Grassley (R-IA) is trying to use the Farm Bill to shield livestock operations from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) by prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from disclosing the location of any livestock operations. FOIA already has strong privacy protections, and the public interest in livestock operations (primarily for environmental impact) is clear, but Grassley justifies his proposal with a “finding” that “domestic terrorist attacks have occurred at livestock operations across the United States.” Ah yes, terrorism.
When I contacted his office to find out what kind of terrorist attacks have befallen livestock operations in the U.S., my calls were not returned. But under AETA’s definition of terrorism, anything from spray-painted barns to setting chickens or minks free would qualify. Grassley’s amendment is being fought by open government and whistleblower groups, led by POGO (Project on Government Oversight). You can take action here.