Animal rights activists set to challenge Utah 'ag-gag' laws

Cows in a factory farm

Controversial “ag-gag” laws will be tested in Utah later this year as animal welfare activists take on the state legislature.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) will seek to prove that the laws – which make it illegal to film images or record sound on private farm facilities – are unconstitutional.

As well as expert witnesses and undercover investigators, ALDF will call upon the help of Amy Meyer, who is the first and so far only person to be charged under the legislation.

The laws came into force in Utah and Iowa in March 2012. Meyer was arrested that year for having taken footage inside a Salt Lake City meat-packing plant of a sick cow being dumped by a front-end loader in front of the slaughterhouse.

Opponents of ag-gag laws say they are an attempt by the livestock industry to prevent the truth about conditions on factory farms becoming known, and thus avoid more stringent regulation.

Livestock producers argue that the issue is one of trespass on private property, but ALDF points out that without undercover filming landmark laws protecting public health would not have been passed – legislation including the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act, which are designed to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses.

University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau, who is helping ALDF prepare its lawsuit against the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said it would be a landmark case.

“These [ag-gag] laws have made it virtually impossible to do any whistleblowing or independent investigation,” he said. “This will be a really important case.”