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What are Ag-gag laws and how would they affect transparency and trust in animal production?

An “Ag-gag” law is the name given to legislation designed to curb the rise in animal activist monitoring and investigative activities within the livestock sector. Proposals to introduce such legislation first arose in the United States in the late 1990s. In the few US states where these laws have been enacted, they contain at least one or more of the following provisions:

  • A prohibition of taking photographs or video footage on or in an agricultural facility or property without the permission of the proprietor;
  • A prohibition on seeking employment with an agricultural business under false pretences or without disclosing ties to animal rights organisations; and
  • A requirement that any documentary evidence of animal mistreatment is reported to relevant authorities within a short timeframe, often a 24 to 48 hour period.

The surge of interest in enacting such legislation corresponds with a sharp increase in the use of direct monitoring and investigative activities by animal activists. The rising prevalence (and perhaps effectiveness) of these investigations has led to calls for the introduction of similar US-styled Ag-gag laws in Australia. The introduction of the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 in the Australian Senate is one such example (this legislation did not pass).

The Ag-gag laws in the US were proposed for the primary purpose of deterring activists from engaging in monitoring and investigative activities, to protect private property rights, and to prevent damage to the reputation of livestock industries. Opponents of the laws also suggest that they have been designed to prevent the public from finding out about common animal husbandry practices that may cause alarm to consumers.

There is growing public desire for greater transparency in food production, particularly in relation to the treatment of livestock. Ag-gag laws fail to address these concerns. Social science research has shown that such laws erode trust in farmers and farming. The Australian community is increasingly sensitive to the treatment of animals in farming contexts. Proposing Ag-gag laws in this climate will further damage the reputation of Australia’s livestock industries and risks accentuating tensions between city and rural communities.

The RSPCA does not support any kind of illegal activity in pursuit of animal welfare objectives. The RSPCA chooses to promote animal welfare through formal government and democratic processes and occupies a position of trust within the community for doing so. The RSPCA believes that livestock industries should pro-actively engage with consumers to address these concerns. Improving animal welfare on farm, during transport and at slaughter requires on-going commitment from all participants along the supply chain. Acknowledging the need for improvements, setting targets for achieving them, and keeping the community informed about progress will go a long way to building trust and confidence to ensure the long-term future of livestock production.

The RSPCA believes the interests of livestock industries are far better served by strategies aimed at building consumer confidence through greater community engagement and a more open and transparent operating environment, than through the introduction of Ag-gag laws.

Updated on May 2, 2019
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