If you're like me, nothing beats a big, meaty cheeseburger off the grill.

And if you're like me, you probably don't really like to think about where your food comes from. But we really need to.

Of course, I try to buy responsibly farmed meat for the most part, but I'm definitely guilty of purchasing lower-grade beef in a pinch or when the sale price is just too good to beat.


This image lives permanently in the depths of my subconscious.

It's just way too easy to not think about what horrible things may have happened to that package of beef on its journey to my supermarket's cooler.

Unfortunately, out of sight, out of mind is exactly what the meat industry wants.

That's why many big factory farms have proposed laws to prevent animal advocates from exposing their practices.

Animal rights groups have spent years fighting for more transparency about what goes on inside factory farms, often in the form of undercover videos taken inside poultry and pork factories that aren't playing by the rules.

In 2013, the meat industry processed over 100 million pigs. Photo by Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr.

But instead of cleaning up their farming methods, a lot of these manufacturers have been trying to punish the people who capture and distribute this kind of evidence via "ag-gag" laws, as they're known, that try to keep these videos from ever seeing the light of day. Not cool.

Some of them make it illegal to enter an animal facility with intent to use a camera or video recorder. Others inflict harsh penalties on people who lie on employment applications in order to gain access to these places.

Starting around 2011, state-level ag-gag bills started cropping up everywhere. Thankfully, most of the bills have died due to strong opposition, but the laws have passed in several key areas, like Iowa and Kansas, for example, both of which are central hubs for factory farms.

We may not want to watch the horrifying behind-the-scenes videos filmed at factory farms, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have access to the truth.

In 2007, The Humane Society of the United States shot one such undercover video at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. plant in Chino, California. The footage showed appalling treatment of sick cows, yes, but it also tipped off the USDA that the resulting meat may not have been safe for consumption. What followed was one of the biggest meat recalls in U.S. history.

Ag-gag laws make obtaining that kind of footage a punishable crime.

Going vegetarian or vegan is a great way to make a difference, but it's actually OK to eat meat. It's even OK if you don't want to know where it comes from.

It's just not OK for factory farms to escape accountability for their actions.

There is good news, though. A federal judge in Idaho just struck down the state's whistleblowing law.

Big Ag, meet your maker — Judge B. Lynn Winmill. Photo from U.S. Courts website.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled on Aug. 3, 2015, that Idaho's ag-gag law violates the First Amendment (free speech, ftw!) following a lawsuit from a coalition of animal activists and civil rights groups.

"Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator ... who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored," Winmill wrote in his ruling.

You said it, buddy.

And it's a good thing this ruling came down because Idaho's ag-gag law really sucked. In addition to making it damn near impossible for anyone to collect hard evidence of wrongdoing, its penalties for whistleblowers were actually worse than the ones for inflicting animal cruelty in the first place!

Absurd.

Good riddance to ag-gag in Idaho. But there's a lot more work to be done.


Big Agriculture is an extremely formidable opponent. According to the North American Meat Institute itself, meat and poultry sales in the U.S. were over $150 billion in 2009. That kind of money buys you some serious lobbying firepower and a lot of influence when it comes to public policy.

But the industry as a whole needs to be held accountable.

Yes, trespassing and lying on employment applications should be illegal, but the factory farming industry shouldn't get to inflict special penalties just because they have friends in high places. And they definitely shouldn't be shielded from following — at the very least — basic animal welfare guidelines.

Ag-gag is currently holding strong in at least six states (as of March 2015), but the federal court throwing its weight around in Idaho definitely bodes well for the future of this battle.