Now comes a certain ripple effect the agricultural industry must prepare for. And in that one statement from the judge, there’s a lot we need to learn.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

Idaho’s ag-gag law was just one in a handful of states that aimed to stop animal rights groups from deceptively gaining employment at dairies or ag operations and secretly filming cases of video abuse. Legislators said it was intended to protect operations’ property rights. Animal rights groups said it denied First Amendment rights of free press.

But even advocates within agriculture were uncertain about these laws. Idaho’s law was especially heavy-handed, placing higher penalties on those who videoed than those who did the abuse.

Even key figures in the beef industry – Drs. Gary Smith of Texas A&M and Temple Grandin of Colorado State, to name two – found the laws undermine the industry’s need for transparency. When people wonder how food is produced, it doesn’t help to criminalize recordings showing how it’s done.

But for many ag producers, the laws were still valid based on property rights. When an activist lies about his identification, background and work experience to get a dairy or feedlot job, then shoots undercover video, it warrants putting some teeth in the law to penalize that specific strategy.


Not so, according to the Idaho federal court. The ruling provides unsettling legal reasoning to protect the deceptive methods that activists use, saying if a party misrepresents or omits their true affiliation in gaining employment, it “will most likely not cause any material harm to the deceived party.”

The real damage would come from the exposé or story about the facility, which is legally separate from how they gained access to that information. In other words, the ends justify the means.

Farms and ranches have the ability to use laws to protect their private property against trespass, conversion and fraud, the judge said. They just can’t do it under a blanket law that criminalizes the means these activists use to investigate. In their fervor to strike out against animal activists, the legislators passed a law that infringed on equal access protection under the Constitution.

Perhaps the legal reasoning of this case defies your logic. But the real lesson in this case is easier to apply: Secret video isn’t what’s hurting agriculture as much as the illicit and abusive behavior it’s trying to record.

As the judge noted, food production shouldn’t be a closed-door issue. Producers can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on government to hide the process. When we hire and train those who work with animals to do it the right way, then livestock are treated with respect and humanity.

When those objectives and practices are maintained, there’s nothing for agriculture to hide.  end mark

David Cooper