Indiana Lawmakers Should Remember Animal Abuse Culture at Fair Oaks Farms
June 11, 2019
Margo Tucker, Assistant Director of the Downstream Project
Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund
The Indianapolis Star (www.indystar.com) has done extensive coverage on the recent uncovering of the mistreatment of animals at Fair Oaks Farm in Northwest Indiana. The video footage of animal cruelty at Fair Oaks Farms exposes more than just an isolated incident on one farm in our state. It is an important example of why we need additional oversight of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”), rather than the whistleblowers who work to expose them.
Unfortunately, that is not the direction that the Indiana General Assembly has chosen to take.
Over the past decade, the animal-agriculture industry has been behind the introduction of "ag-gag" bills in more than half of all state legislatures across the country, including Indiana. These bills are designed to silence whistleblowers by penalizing the investigation of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video, or audio at these facilities. To date, ag-gag bills have been successfully passed in 7 states and have been defeated in 19. Indiana falls into the category of states which have defeated such legislation, at least for now.
Ag-gag bills were introduced in Indiana in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and all were defeated or stripped of their ag-gag language, but only after large numbers of citizens spoke up in opposition. Senate Bill 184, the 2012 version, would have criminalized videographers who exposed harmful activity on factory farms while shielding abusers from prosecution. It is frightening to think that our state legislature even considered a bill that would criminalize exposing this kind of abuse and I’m grateful to all who helped defeat it.
It’s important to remember that whistleblowers have played a vital role at the state and national level in exposing animal welfare and food safety issues related to industrialized agriculture. Fair Oaks is a prime example. What was once perceived as the “Disney World of Dairy” has now been exposed for what it really is – a factory that treats animals like commodities. Armed with this knowledge, the public can use their purchasing power to punish this behavior and patronize Indiana farms that ARE following an ethical and sustainable business model.
I hope that this tragic footage is not wasted on our lawmakers; that they remember this event the next time ag-gag legislation rears its ugly head in our state or when a bill that offers much-needed CAFO reforms comes before them for a vote.