Originally posted at BillMoyers.com
When it comes to keeping our food supply safe and our humane values intact, sometimes there's nothing like a whistleblower -- someone who will show or tell us the truth that someone else wants to keep hidden.
In 2011, McDonald's fired a producer of eggs for its breakfast sandwiches after an activist group, Mercy for Animals, provided graphic, disturbing images of the company's farm to ABC News. That same year, Mercy for Animals took pictures at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina -- birds being kicked and beaten with a metal bar. An investigation ensued. The abusers were fired.
But suppose I told you that taking pictures like these could get you charged with a crime. Yes, you -- not the company endangering our food supply, or the person inflicting cruelty on the helpless creatures, but you, the photographer, for taking the picture without permission of the facility's owner.
It's possible thanks to what are called "ag gag" laws -- that's a term coined by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.
"Ag" stands for agriculture. And "gag" -- well, you know, a gag order means "shut up." And that's what these laws are intended to do -- to silence whistleblowers and investigators from trying to inform the public about bad practices at factory farms.
Now who would want to make it a crime to reveal such abuses?
Remember our report on "The United States of ALEC"? That's right -- the American Legislative Exchange Council. The corporate-funded organization whose dubious bedfellows include industry lawyers and lobbyists and state legislators -- elected public officials. Their mission, as you've heard us say here before, is to change the country by changing its laws... one state at a time.
Now take a look at this document. It's called "Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America." This is an ALEC creation.
Right there at the bottom of the document you can see it was approved by ALEC's board of directors, September 1, 2003.
Now think about that date. Just two Septembers after the atrocious attacks that killed three thousand Americans, and as we were still trying to figure out how to cope with terrorism, ALEC compared "extreme animal rights and environmental militants" to "terrorist groups like Al Qaeda."
That's how ALEC figured to market the model bill it would soon produce: The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. The bill would make it illegal -- an act of "terror" -- to take pictures at an animal facility with the intent to "defame the facility or its owner."
Those convicted under the act would be put on a "terrorist registry" -- never mind what the facility or owner might be doing to the creatures themselves.
Laws that appear to be inspired by the ALEC model make it a crime for potential whistleblowers to take any video or otherwise document practices at factory farms and other facilities.
Now keep in mind what his could mean for public health. Animal abuse often goes hand in hand with dangerous, unsanitary conditions. Which is why Wired magazine says "Ag gag laws could make America sick."
Wired quoted an attorney at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, who said, "public health issues, food safety issues, environmental issues: all those things can be exposed through undercover investigations."
But not if the corporations behind ALEC, their devotees, and disciples get their way.
Since 2010, ag gag bills have passed in five states: Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina, Missouri and Iowa. Overall, they've been introduced in 19 states -- in over half of them by legislators with known ALEC ties.
But this time ALEC and its ilk may have overstepped their bounds.
Ag gag has been defeated in 12 of those states, including Tennessee, where country music star Carrie Underwood helped pressure the governor into vetoing the bill.
"Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who's with me?"
Apparently, Carrie, a lot of Americans are with you.
Ag gag laws are still pending in two states. In one of those, North Carolina, Mercy for Animals reported more abuse of butterball turkeys even after the 2011 incident we showed you earlier, with birds being beaten, dragged, or violently slammed into crates.
Beware: Better get the owner's permission before photographing the brutality. Otherwise, in the United States of ALEC, you could be punished as a criminal.