2008 brought us the largest meat recall in history. Undercover video by The Humane Society of the United States at Hallmark /Westland Meat Packing Company in Chino, CA revealed cows so sick they couldn't move, being dragged to the killing floor by forklift. The video provided examples of needless animal suffering that led to the flooding of the U.S. meat market (including the National School Lunch Program) with unsafe food. Without this footage, the Chino slaughterhouse would have most likely continued business as usual.
From Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" to Mercy For Animals' recent 2014 expose of animal abuse at livestock markets in Mississippi, undercover investigators have been one of the only meaningful sources of information from inside a factory farm industry that enjoys almost total lack of oversight from regulatory officials. But we all know what happens in slaughterhouses, right?
There's a reason slaughterhouses don't have windows. This lack of transparency plays a vital role in keeping these industries out of sight and out of mind. But if we already know what happens in a slaughterhouse, then why are animal industries so desperate to hide their activities?
So desperate, in fact, that lobbyists have spent the last few years introducing new agricultural bills aimed at silencing, or gagging, undercover investigators. These 'Ag-gag' bills are designed to make it illegal to photograph or videotape animal cruelty on factory farms and slaughterhouses. The industry would rather turn investigator into criminals than clean up their act to protect consumers.
Since 2011, the powerful agriculture lobby has only passed bills in Missouri, Idaho, Iowa and Utah. Historically, we rely on concerned citizens and investigators to hold industries accountable. When we discover industries illegally polluting our rivers and streams or exploiting voiceless workers, it is usually because a journalist has taken risks to expose the wrongdoing. Many of the journalists we award Pulitzer prizes to had to either go undercover, or use information from undercover sources to put together the life-changing stories worthy of such an award. Ag-gag laws are designed to put an end to this type of investigation with weighted sentences and stiffer penalties.
Further, if the Ag-gag laws weren't enough, factory farm industry and agricultural lobbyists interests have now dovetailed with the interests of a growing security state. In the wake of 9-11, the Dept Of Homeland Security was born. In a wave of patriotic fervor, branches of government with almost blank-cheque budgets were created to combat terrorism wherever it exists. The face of DC changed as scores of office buildings sprung up, most of them devoted to a noble idea of keeping America safe from threats domestic and foreign. Intelligence became currency. Terrorism became big business. But as the fervor died down and we ended up capturing and killing more civilians than terrorists, the fate of these security apparatuses was at stake. In turn, overzealous government officials watered down the word terrorist to expand its parameters.
If they could lower the bar, they could find a new lease on terrorist hunting, not unlike a company that re-directs marketing of a failed product to a different demographic. Who ended up in their cross hairs? Environmental activists and the animal rights community. A new term entered our lexicon: eco-terrorist. Even non-violent, peaceful activists found themselves painted with this broad stroke. Activists concerned with animal welfare were being compared to terrorists who flew planes into buildings.
Not unlike the Red Scare of post-WWII America when Joseph McCarthy led a witch-hunt against 'communists' perceived to be 'anti-american', some have dubbed this new attack on activists and environmentalists as 'the green scare.' "As Ag-gag becomes law, more and more investigators say they are afraid to talk to journalists about their work," says Will Potter, author of Green Is The New Red. If you can't beat them, silence them.
I wrote a song on our new record called "The Eco-Terrorist In Me." The song started with the simple realization that I have much more in common with what the industry and government calls an 'eco-terrorist' than with an industry and government bent on hiding the business of meat production from watchful eyes. If you have to find legal ways to hide the way you do business, that's the first sign that there is something wrong with the way you do business.
The only thing Ag-gag laws do is protect the bottom-line for an animal industry only concerned about profits and shareholders while stigmatizing honest activism. The fact that government has sided with the industry in a handful of cases is perhaps more sad than it is surprising when you consider that U.S. Agribusiness employees have contributed 91-million dollars to candidates. If the federal government can't monitor the corporations who have swallowed our family farms and produce our food, who will?
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: