Ag-gag bills hinder investigation of factory farms, according to adjunct professor

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Amon Burton, adjunct professor of law, talked about ag-gag laws, which prohibit the filming of animal abuse at factory farms, at a lecture held Monday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Qiling Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Ag-gag laws are “clearly an impediment to anyone trying to investigate” factory farming facilities, according to Amon Burton, an adjunct professor of law.

Burton spoke on ag-gag laws, which prohibit the filming of animal abuse at factory farms, at a lecture hosted by the American Constitution Society and Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the School of Law.  

Anne Swift, a law student and member of the American Constitution Society, said the bills are interesting for law students because they address issues surrounding free speech, animal rights and worker’s rights.

“The American Constitution Society is a national organization that unites progressive attorneys, professors, law students and any legal professional around pursuing progressive changes in the law,” Swift said. “From our perspective, this is an interesting issue because of the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment implications.”

Camila Cossio, law student and Co-President of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the School of Law, said consumers should be aware of the practices of factory farms because 99 percent of animals in the US are raised in factories.

“It’s really important for consumers to understand how prevalent these operations are and how abusive they are to animals, workers and the environment,” Cossio said.

Burton said the abuse goes beyond beating the animals when factory farms try to maximize production by subjecting animals to inhumane living conditions and using genetic engineering.

“It affects the food supply,” Burton said. “Part of the problem is that the public has no idea of what’s going on with the food supply. The food supply is underground, and that’s what [ag-gag bills are] doing.”

Most citizens agree that animal abuse in factory farming is bad, Swift said, but most people do not think about that sort of thing when they consume meat products.

“I think that the meat-interested citizen should have problems with that, both as a matter of what liberties we have and as something that really affects our health and the health of our country, so we should do what we can to protect people’s access to that information,” Swift said.

Burton said retailers such as Tyson, Walmart, Chick-fil-A and Costco have the power to prevent ag-gag laws and allow for investigative journalism work in the industry.

“The only effect we’ve seen is the [bills that have been] released impact the retailers,” Burton said. “[Retailers] have canceled various kinds of suppliers.”