Why Jews Should Oppose Ag-Gag Laws
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

The current widespread mistreatment of animals in the food industry, especially on factory farms, is inconsistent with Judaism’s ethic of compassion for animals. Nevertheless, most Jews are eating foods that entail animal abuse in almost all major phases of animal agriculture.

In addition to institutionalized abuses that are integral to the raising of animals for food, many undercover videos have revealed sadistic mistreatment of animals by workers.

But instead of taking the necessary steps to put an end to such abuses, the animal food industries would rather cover them up and keep the public in the dark as to how animals are treated on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. Their latest efforts involve the imposition of “ag-gag” laws, legislation that would criminalize the undercover videotaping of conditions at factory farms or slaughterhouses.

What do they have to hide? Apparently, quite a lot, or this legislation wouldn’t be so powerfully backed.

Rather than improving conditions for animals, something that would reduce their profits, the agribusiness industry prefers to enlist the government in keeping its “dirty secrets” of animal abuses, environmental hazards, and unsafe working conditions.

Amazingly, in this land of democracy and freedom, anti-whistle-blowing bills have passed in six states since 1990 (Iowa, Utah and Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas) and additional ones were proposed in eleven states in 2013 (Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Vermont). So far, none of the additional laws have passed.

In addition to being opposed by animal welfare groups, ag-gag laws are strongly contested by environmental, food justice, food safety, workers rights, civil liberties, public health, journalistic and First Amendment organizations. These groups include Humane Society of the US (HSUS), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Amnesty International USA, Farm Sanctuary, Food and Water Watch, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, International Labor Rights Forum, National Consumers League, and United Farm Workers. Their statement of opposition includes: “These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, law enforcement investigations and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply.”

In addition to many local newspapers, the New York Times, Boston Globe and New Haven Register have editorialized against ag-gag laws.

These anti-whistleblower bills raise the key question, “What does animal agriculture have to hide?“ What is going on behind the scene? Isn’t the public entitled to know how their food is produced? Perhaps there is some truth in Paul McCartney’s statement, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

Our sages define the Jewish people as ”rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (compassionate children of compassionate ancestors),” emulating the ways of God, Whose “compassion is over all His works.” (Psalms 145:9) Especially since Judaism places great stress on the production, preparation and consumption of food, for both ritualistic and ethical reasons, we should play an active role in opposing ag-gag laws and working to sharply reduce or eliminate abuses of farmed animals.
Some of the ways to do this are by spreading information about the available undercover videos of animal abuses, writing letters opposing op-ed laws to editors and state legislators, and increasing awareness that vegetarianism (and even more so, veganism) is most consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and helping hungry people, and that animal-based diets are having devastating effects on human health and the environment.