Take Two # Ag Gag: when reporting crime becomes illegal

By Kyra-lin Hom

My study abroad semester in Beijing, China included a program-wide excursion to Yangshuo in southeastern China. For those who know their Chinese geography, Yangshuo is a small county within the Guilin prefecture of Guangxi province. It is a gorgeous river town famous for its truly unique karst formations, softly-peaking mini mountains that rise like several story buildings throughout the entire area. We were there for the hot springs. This was to be our relaxation and reward after a grueling week and a half of non-stop southward travel visiting historical cities and landmarks.

Besides the hot springs, Yangshuo is perfect for hiking, canoeing, and general adventuring. There is a specific canoeing route tourists are encouraged to take. It even has a floating restaurant stop for a midday break. Now, I use the term 'restaurant' loosely. It's really a floating bamboo platform of shaded tables and chairs. The actual kitchen is a trek up the hill to a rundown farmhouse. After several hours on the river, however, my canoeing party wasn't exactly complaining. It had food, drink – awesome.

We stretched our arms and legs, avoided the ice water (never drink the ice) and ordered our lunch. Ten minutes later, to the serious distress of one of my girlfriends, we hear a distinct squawk then see our server hiking back to the kitchens with a newly wrung (killed) chicken in hand. The poor girl was turning green. Being my typical nurturing self, I then pointed out that she had ordered the chicken. Needless to say, she swore off meat of any kind... until we returned to the city where she wouldn't have to see it prepared.

Does that give anyone else a conniption fit? It really does me. There is a massive intellectual disconnect between our plates and where our food comes from. Just last week, my roomies and I had to google what a lentil was (after having eaten them for a month). One of my best friends accidentally ordered beef tendon because she thought it was the same thing as a tenderloin. We laugh, but how many of us could actually point to where on a cow a tenderloin comes from?

More than our general ignorance about what we're putting in our bodies, my friend from China's eating decision bothered me because it demonstrates willful blindness. Now that is a true disconnect. It's not that she didn't know where her food came from but that she didn't want to know. Thinking like that is how 'ag gag' legislation (as coined by Mark Bittman of the New York Times) finds a footing.

Ag gag legislation refers to anti-whistleblower bills that are being supported, pushed and proposed by BIG meat farms and their backer corporations in the US. No matter how these bigwigs couch their legalese, the goal of ag gag is to prevent activists, employees and journalists from finding and/or reporting instances of animal abuse in meat making plants. Despite strong evidence (farms that were forced to change in lieu of abuse convictions) that better treatment of animals results in a higher yield of healthy meat, corporations such as the National Pork Board and non-profit lobbyists such as the Center for Consumer Freedom are doing their level best to choke investigations into meat farming practices.

The reason stems from PETA's push to hold liable not only the employees committing the acts of abuse but also the farm owners and corporate backers when applicable. If this went through, farms convicted of abuse would have to completely overhaul their systems of breeding, housing and treating their animals. A massive expense that they don't want to cough up – a very poor excuse when their practices are outdated.

Clamming up investigators is the wrong way to go. Did you know that it's actually legal to kill underweight piglets by smashing their heads against concrete? It's called 'thumping.' It's also legal to throw sickly chickens straight into the meat grinders while they're still alive. What we allow in this country is abhorrent. Not only are these practices inhumane, they're unhygienic. And we're eating it!

The fight over ag gag appalls me in its complete missing of the point. Instead of being bogged down in whether or not and in what capacity it is legal for non-government individuals to investigate questionably legal abuse practices, our political machine should be zeroing in on the practices themselves. But anyone who would be doing that is currently trying to not go to prison or get permanently stuck on a terrorist watch list for reporting on the wrong people.

Let's make operations like gestation crates illegal and then put someone in charge who doesn't have their money tied up in big agro. Or better yet, let's just push for transparency. What exactly are these farms and corporations spending millions to hide?

This is an issue every single person should care about because even if you don't care about the animals themselves, you're still eating them.

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