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First of Its Kind Lawsuit Challenging Utah Ag-Gag Law Now Threatened

Mercy for Animals Canada footage

Ag-gag bills have been cropping up across the U.S. in response to the rise of undercover investigations (like this one) exposing animal abuses and poor working condition in factory farms as conducted by investigative journalists and animal protection organizations.

So far, eight states (Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina) have passed these controversial bills, which many argue are inherently unconstitutional as they trample on the basic first amendment right of free speech. Ag-gag legislation is also currently pending in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

If passed, ag-gag bills give a state the right to prosecute anyone who trespasses on or creates a recording of an animal facility. Some even make it illegal for an individual (i.e. an investigator) to obtain employment under “false pretenses.”

Utah’s ag-gag law contains both of these stipulations. Right now, a ground-breaking lawsuit is underway in the state to challenge its year-old ag-gag law that was signed in March 2012 by Governor Gary Herbert (R).

This first of its kind lawsuit was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), political journalist CounterPunch, journalists Will Potter and Jess Fruhwirth, undercover investigator Daniel Hauff, professor James McWilliams and Amy Meyer, the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under an ag-gag law, as reported by ALDF in a press release.

“[Utah’s ag-gag law] is nothing but an attempt to silence citizens who expose animal cruelty,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the ALDF. “Rather than trampling upon our rights, our lawmakers should be helping us enforce the law against the chronic abuse of animals on factory farms.”

Unfortunately, just last week the state of Utah filed a motion to dismiss this lawsuit on the grounds that these plaintiffs “lack standing to challenge the statue,” reports Food Safety News via a statement from Utah state attorneys. According to the state, in order to prosecute, these plaintiffs would need to prove that someone is under a “real and immediate threat of future prosecution.”

But at its core, Utah’s law, like other ag-gag legislation, is a “real and immediate” threat to all. It threatens farm workers, the environment, the animals, our health, and our right to know about where our food comes from and what companies are doing with it. It protects industry interests, not the public, and quite frankly, any law that does so should never be allowed to pass into law in the first place.

Image source: Mercy for Animals Canada / Flickr

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