The End of Freedom? Ag-Gag Bills, Edward Snowden and Force-Fed Prisoners at Guantanamo


A question comes to mind in the wake of the NSA’s PRISM leak courtesy of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and the flurry of ag-gag bills appearing around the country: If the government can spy on all of us, why would “ag-gag” bills consider undercover video footage obtained inside factory farms, illegal?

And, actually, here’s another question that comes to mind: If we can allow this type of force-feeding to human prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as “standard practice,” why the need to cover up and hide what happens to the food we eat?

One of the most vital tools for eliminating animal cruelty is being threatened by what’s known as “ag-gag” laws, intended to stop whistle-blowing and the collection of undercover footage, by criminalizing the activity. Nevermind our First Amendment rights, apparently. Oh yeah, taking undercover video footage is also considered an act of terrorism…which could technically put you in Guantanamo and subject to illegal abuse and force-feeding. Go figure.

It’s the stuff none of us ever want to look at: the inside of a factory farm where cruelty and abuse are standard practices. The only other place they’re employed in the U.S. (without accountability) may just be Guantanamo. And as Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) illustrated in this unbearable video, conditions often escalate to law-breaking behaviors. In the case of the food we eat, animal rights activists are there to capture it whenever they can with hidden cameras. That’s more than can be said for the prisoners.

Organizations including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the Humane Society of the U.S. have helped secure felony convictions for abuses, and instigated massive food recalls as a result of undercover footage obtained inside factory farms. The method has also led countless individuals to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy products from these facilities, which may be the main reason the industry is so hell bent on criminalizing the activity. Paul McCartney once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would go vegetarian. I’ll add to that they might also get outraged. Rise up. Give the food industry and our government, an ultimatum: Things have to change. Or else.

Instead, we focus on the activity of whistle-blowers like Snowden, who the government calls a criminal. Whether or not the NSA is reading my emails is less of a concern to me than the decision to hunt down Snowden for alerting me to the fact. What’s wrong with transparency in government? Is it not “of the people, by the people, for the people” that Lincoln said was paramount to our new birth of freedom?

States including Tennessee, Utah and Iowa now have ag-gag laws on the books and other states are working diligently to push them through. According to Mother Jones, the bills are receiving heavy pushes from ag industry lobbyists and supporters: “Wilton Simpson, an egg farmer now running for the Florida Senate, pushed the legislation in the Sunshine State. In Iowa—where egg mogul Jack DeCoster was under a federal investigation that eventually found that filthy conditions at his facilities had led to a salmonella outbreak and nationwide egg recall—the Iowa Poultry Association freely admits the role it played in shaping the bill.” In response to PETA’s investigation of a hog farm called MowMar, Mother Jones also reports that a spokesperson for the company called PETA’s video “the 9/11 event of animal care in our industry.”

As health risks escalate from factory farming conditions, so too does the industry’s need to shield itself. When animals are found in conditions where cruelty is rampant, they’re often at risk of spreading diseases. Mistreated animals are routinely crowded into filthy and unsanitary situations where bacteria and diseases can quickly spread. Holding factory farms to humane standards also helps mitigate deadly contamination risks. Whistleblowing is intended to protect citizens (and animals). It’s a tool vital to democracy, to our freedom, to our health.

Despite the rise of consumers educating themselves on the risks associated with the industrial food complex and big-ag’s  corporate agendas, the industries continue to find ways to influence consumers. I recently wrote about a report outlining numerous organizations that are little more than front groups for giant food corporations. Much in the same way the ag-gag bills are attempting to suppress what goes on behind the shit and blood-filled doors of factory farms, the brands selling this “food” want you to believe it’s healthy and good for the planet, too. Of course, if that doesn’t work, they can always resort to force-feeding.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: bpblogspot

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.