At first read, one might mistake AB 343 as a bill that encourages individuals to bring to light instances of animal cruelty and unsafe food practices. After all, any measure that creates a duty to report animal cruelty must be a step in the humane direction, right?
Unfortunately, wrong. At second glance, it becomes clear that this measure is designed to accomplish the exact opposite. If enacted in California, AB 343 would require any person recording animal cruelty to "submit all original photographs, recordings or video to law enforcement and the owner of the animal(s) or a representative of the owner within forty eight hours of taking such photographs, recordings or video." By requiring individuals to immediately identify themselves and put factory farms on notice as to potential law enforcement measures, this bill aims to end protected whistleblower activity by stopping the use of media to expose inhumane and unsafe agricultural practices. In short, it chills free speech, keeps consumers in the dark about the realities of factory farming and protects violators of the law.
Imagine if every neighborhood watch group had to hand over to drug dealers any video surveillance footage capturing their street-corner transactions before local law enforcement searched the alleged violators for possession. How many arrests would then be made? That’s right. Exactly zero.
Sadly, AB 343 is part of a recent national trend of "ag-gag" bills being introduced by state legislatures. California is just one out of nine states this year that have current or pending anti-whistleblower measures before their legislatures. Fresno Assemblymember Jim Patterson (whose district includes Harris Ranch, a major California beef supplier) is carrying the bill, which is not surprisingly sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association.
Fortunately, Californians concerned with animal welfare, civil liberties, public health, food safety, the environment and workers’ rights (to name a few) know better than to be duped by California’s beef producers.
After all, disturbing undercover footage in 2008 showed slaughterhouse employees torturing cattle and processing animals unfit for humane consumption, which prompted a record-setting recall from Chino’s (now-bankrupt) Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. and a subsequent $500 million judgment for animal abuse. Last year, Fresno’s Central Valley Meat Co. was temporarily shut down by federal regulators after a graphic undercover video surfaced from within the slaughterhouse that showed sick cows struggling to walk and stand. As meat suppliers for the National School Lunch Program, both companies had pledged to provide humane treatment of animals for slaughter.
Any facility that is operating responsibly need not hide behind this bill. Rather than taking aim at the First Amendment, the cattle industry (together with Assemblymember Patterson) should instead focus its efforts on providing beef to consumers in a humane and safe manner.
AB 343 is expected to be heard April 17th in Assembly Committee on Agriculture. Click here to find your representative and voice your opinion on AB 343.