Similar to last month, April has been a mixed bag when it comes to Ag Gag legislation that criminalizes whistleblowers trying to expose wrongdoing at farm operations via undercover video. Good news in the last two weeks emerged with the death of proposed bills in Tennessee and Nebraska, but harmful legislation has moved forward in Missouri.
Last week, Missouri's House of Representatives approved an Ag Gag bill that would make it more difficult to unveil food integrity violations at agricultural facilities. It not only mirrors Iowa's bill that became law in March – penalizing individuals who apply for ag jobs under false pretenses – but it also specifically prohibits the production or distribution of undercover video or audio recordings (language removed from Iowa's bill due to concerns about free speech violations).
The whole thing is a bit ironic, considering Missouri is the "Show-Me State." If Missourians need to see it to believe it, then anti-transparency bills like this one, which clearly punishes the messenger, rob the state's residents the right to know how their food is produced.
While bill sponsor Rep. Casey Guernsey makes the familiar but misguided claim that the legislation doesn't penalize whistleblowers who are legitimately employed by an agribusiness, groups like the Humane Society of the United States point out to the River Front Times that it is these legitimate employees who often prompt their investigations:
"These are people who fear retaliation or the loss of their job should they make their concerns public," Matt Dominguez, a spokesman for HSUS tells Daily RFT. "What's interesting with the Missouri bill -- and similar ones being considered in other states -- is that it singles out agriculture. Other industries don't need these kinds of protections. So, the question becomes, 'What do these industrial farms have to hide?'"
They have a lot to hide, apparently. The legislation would apply to a wide variety of crop, livestock and poultry facilities, even including the "vehicle used to transport the animal." FIC has repeatedly blogged about the important food safety role of transportation workers, and now Missouri wants to make it more difficult for them to expose problems during shipment? A recent survey showing the lack of cleanliness in poultry shipping crates makes this bill even more disconcerting.
Rather than charging truth-tellers in the agriculture industry with a misdemeanor, a $1,000 fine and jail time, the state should be rewarding them for their bravery and service to the public interest.
Tsk tsk, Missouri.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.