A while back I complained about the proliferation of “Ag gag” bills across the country attempting to protect anyone in the meat production industry from whistleblowers and animal rights groups from filming what goes on in meat production facilities. Little did I know that Utah would be the first state to prosecute someone under such a bill.
Back in February a local animal activist learned of a slaughterhouse a few miles from my house, and that you could view their operations from outside the facility. She and a friend decided to go check it out. Being (allegedly) careful not to leave public property, they took video of the plant and what operations they could see from the street. They were approached by plant employees who told them they couldn’t film there and, when the woman reminded them she was on public property, called the police. Supposedly, the police arrived and could see no indications that the two had trespassed, but informed the woman they would “screen” the case with the prosecutor’s office.
Eleven days later, the city filed charges against the young woman. Yesterday the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges for “evidentiary reasons.” Here are a couple new reports on the case: Salt Lake Tribune – April 29, Salt Lake Tribune – April 30, KSL.com – April 30.
My wife and I drove past the place last night headed somewhere else–it’s right next to the freeway, normally in plain view. Right now you can’t see it because of a line of long trailers parked with practically no gap between them, effectively screening the property. While they certainly have the right to do so, just like they have the right to petition the legislature to keep would-be whistleblowers out, I think they’re overreacting. So far the public has shown little interest in getting riled over how food animals are treated. Even KSL’s story leads off with a picture of cows in a green, sunny meadow–at least the Trib shows pictures of the woman involved. No one shows pictures of the slaughterhouse in question, though I doubt they’d try arresting journalists.
But really, when a place goes to that length to discourage even legal observation, you have to wonder what’s going on. Stop in the street in front of pretty much any other business and take pictures, and no one would even notice, let alone care. But there? It’s like a those cheesy scenes in movies when the heroes stumble across something the government is trying to cover up and are instantly swarmed by men in suits talking into their cuffs.
I’m not sure why these people need or deserve special legal protection other than they can donate large sums of cash to state officials. Just remember that next time you’re eating a burger–part of what you paid went toward making sure you have even less of a chance of finding out what’s really in it.