Over the last several years, Mercy For Animals has conducted more than 40 undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. Every single one of these investigations — each carried out at randomly selected facilities — has exposed sickening cruelty to animals, including workers punching, kicking, stabbing and even sexually molesting animals.

The video footage we’ve obtained is so disturbing that most people can’t bear to watch even a few minutes of it on YouTube, but it’s cruelty that millions of animals are forced to endure on a daily basis. The sad reality is the animal agriculture industry routinely subjects animals to abuses that are simply out of step with most Americans’ values.

But rather than pass stronger laws and more oversight to protect animals on factory farms, corrupt legislators with close ties to the factory farming industry have been working overtime to pass “ag-gag” laws designed to cover up animal abuse on factory farms by intimidating whistleblowers with threats of criminal prosecution.

The legislators behind these ag-gag bills don’t want to stop cruelty to animals. They just want to stop you from finding out about it.

Most of these ag-gag bills have been defeated after concerned citizens from all walks of life contacted their legislators and demanded more transparency, not less, in food production. But in a handful of states, including Iowa, Idaho, Utah and Missouri, the factory farming industry has succeeded in passing these unpopular laws.

When the North Carolina legislature overturned the governor’s veto earlier this year to pass a wildly unpopular ag-gag law in the state, it seemed the factory farming industry could prevail in its efforts to sweep evidence of animal abuse under the rug all across the country.

That is until Monday, when an ag-gag law in Idaho was ruled blatantly unconstitutional. 

Idaho’s ag-gag law, which banned taking pictures or video at factory farms or slaughterhouses without the owner’s permission, was introduced after a Mercy For Animals undercover investigation exposed horrific cruelty to animals at the state’s largest dairy factory farm: Bettencourt Dairies. You can watch the video at BurgerKingCruelty.com.

That investigation, which documented workers viciously beating and shocking cows, violently twisting their tails, and even sexually abusing cows, led to charges of criminal animal cruelty against multiple Bettencourt Dairies workers, including a manager, and spurred significant animal welfare policy reforms by major food suppliers.

Following MFA’s investigation, the $2.5 billion dollar dairy industry in Idaho banded together to draft an ag-gag law and then used its considerable political influence to get the bill passed into law.

But yesterday, a federal court decided Idaho’s ag-gag law violates the First Amendment right to free speech and the Equal Protection Clause because it was clearly intended to silence only those who are critical of factory farms. In his ruling, Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote:

“The recording prohibition gives agricultural facility owners veto power, allowing owners to decide what can and cannot be recorded, effectively turning them into state-backed censors able to silence unfavorable speech about their facilities.”

The judge went further, calling Idaho’s ag-gag law “perverse” and saying that powerful industries like the factory farming industry do not deserve heightened protection from public criticism. He said:

“Protecting the private interests of a powerful industry, which produces the public’s food supply, against public scrutiny is not a legitimate government interest.”

This is a victory for the Constitution, animals, and consumers nationwide. Judge Winmill’s decision to strike down Idaho’s dangerous and unconstitutional ag-gag law is the first step towards restoring transparency in U.S. food production.

Hope for the Future

Idaho’s lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment. We hope they will now focus their efforts on improving animal welfare and rewarding the brave whistleblowers who uncover criminal activity in Idaho’s agricultural operations. This ruling should also be a wake-up call to the meat industry that attempts to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from will not be tolerated.

Mercy For Animals looks forward to resuming undercover investigations in Idaho. The sickening and illegal animal cruelty on factory farms that this despicable law sought to conceal will not go undetected and unpunished. We hope that dangerous ag-gag laws enacted in other states will be swiftly struck down as a result of this decision.

The freedom to openly discuss cruelty and corruption in our food supply is paramount to protecting the health and safety of the American people. Yesterday’s ruling makes clear that the fundamental values on which this country was built, including freedom of speech and equal protection, cannot be infringed upon.

For more information about ag-gag, please visit NoAgGag.com.

Image source: Steve Evans/Flickr