Controversial 'Ag-Gag' Charges Dropped in Utah -- But There's Still Work to Do

You may have seen the national news last week that four animal activists were formally slapped with "agricultural operation interference" charges, also known as "ag-gag" laws, in Iron County, Utah. Fortunately, prosecutors are reporting they will drop the ag-gag charges, but this does not mean the battle is over.

If you aren't familiar with ag-gag laws, think of them as anti-whistleblower laws, criminalizing the act of photographing abuses on agriculture facilities or slaughterhouses. Six states have successfully passed these laws. So, if you learned about the cruel treatment of farmed animals from a documentary or internet video -- as most of us have -- then your very ability to learn new information is at stake, as producing those videos is at risk of becoming illegal.

In September, 2014, four activists including my colleague Bryan Monell went to the Circle Four hog facility in Utah to document -- on public property -- the journey the pigs are forced into all the way to the slaughterhouse in Los Angeles, California. Circle Four Farms raises and markets about 1.2 million hogs per year as a subsidiary of the world's largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods.

When the animals are shipped to slaughter, they are typically denied food or water for this entire trip. When these activists with Farm Animal Rights Movement attempted document this, farm workers accused them of entering public property and photographing animals before the journey even began, and police charged them with trespassing and interfering.

Here's why this case still matters:

• The trespassing charges have not been dropped. Ag-gag is unpopular, and it was a strategic move by Iron County and Circle Four to drop the controversial charges, hoping the public forget that each of the four the activists could still face fines or jail time under the class B trespassing misdemeanor.

• Utah's ag-gag laws still stand. So far, Utah has twice filed ag-gag charges (once in 2013, and more recently with the current case), and twice yielded to public pressure to drop the charges. This chilling effect on free speech is likely to deter future public interest organizations and individuals from legally documenting farming practices.

More ag-gag laws are being proposed. Washington state is the most recent to suggest that in the new legislative cycle, and ag-gag law is likely to be introduced (modeled after their neighbor Idaho's successful law).

You can challenge ag-gag in your own way simply by educating yourself and your friends and family. Videos like this one showcase the reality of animal farming, and it's exactly what companies and many governments don't want us to see. Stay tuned for more on this case as it develops.

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