Leading academics have branded the United States legal restrictions on monitoring animal welfare as “sinister”. The so-called ‘ag-gag’ laws now in force in Iowa and Utah and awaiting consideration in other U.S. states, make it a criminal offence to photograph or make a sound or video recording of an animal facility without the owner’s permission.
The editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics (JAE) recently published by the University of Illinois Press say objections to these laws have not been properly taken into account. Editors Professors Andrew Linzey and Priscilla N. Cohn list five reasons for concern:
In the first place, the overwhelming majority of Americans eat meat and animal products. That being so, they have an obvious interest in what (or whom) they are eating, in how the animals who result in that meat were bred, raised, fed, transported, handled, treated, and slaughtered.
Second, these animal facilities, though they may be privately owned, are subject to the laws of the land (however inadequate) that apply to the treatment of farmed animals. If they continue to be hidden from public gaze, it is difficult to see how we shall know what conditions prevail, who is responsible when things go wrong (e.g., when even the minimal standards are not adhered to), and what penalties are in force.
Third, although again they may be privately owned, these “animal facilities” are the recipients of public subsidies. Every taxpayer in the United States, vegetarian or otherwise, has a right to know what is being funded in his or her name. After all, it is their money.
Fourth, the ag-gag laws prevent consumers and taxpayers not only from knowing but also from seeing and judging for themselves. In the history of moral causes, the denial of transparency invariably betokens something to hide.
Last, there is an underlying ethical issue here of some importance. What we see, or are allowed to see, affects our moral judgment. That so much of industrialized farming is, as a matter of course, hidden from view hinders full moral evaluation.
The JAE has been launched by a US and UK academic partnership with the goal of widening international debate about the moral status of animals, and is the result of years of collaboration between the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (www.oxfordanimalethics.com) and the University of Illinois Press. To subscribe to the Journal, please visit the Journal’s website at http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/jane.html.