California ‘ag-gag bill’ is gagged and gone

An image from a 2007 video provided by the Humane Society of the U.S. shows a worker at Hallmark/Westland slaughterhouse and meatpacking company in Chino attempting to force a cow onto its feet by ramming it with the blades of a forklift.
(Undercover video from the Humane Society of the U.S. / Associated Press)

The so-called ag-gag bill winding its way through the California Assembly has been pulled by its author, Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno. Smart move.

The bill, AB 343, would have required anyone who videotapes, photographs or records incidents of animal cruelty to turn over the evidence to authorities within 48 hours or be charged with an infraction of the law. Patterson said the bill, which was sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Assn., a nonprofit trade group representing ranchers and beef producers, was an attempt to bring abuse to light as soon as possible.

But what dozens of animal welfare groups, as well as this paper’s editorial board, argued was that the bill would have done little more than keep abuse in the dark. Seeing and recording one act of abuse generally doesn’t get it stopped if there isn’t a pattern of abuse in a facility. That can take weeks to document, and it’s a pattern of abuse that makes for a good case for a prosecutor.


About the only good thing you could say about this ag-gag measure is that it wasn’t as bad as other bills introduced in legislatures across the country. Some outlawed videotaping altogether at animal facilities.

The bill was also opposed by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., which contended that it would have violated the rights of journalists who obtained tapes and recordings made at animal facilities.

Patterson told me when I talked to him last month about his bill that he does care deeply about rooting out animal abuse at slaughterhouses, and that the California Cattlemen’s Assn. does as well. Now that this ill-advised bill is out of the way, Patterson might consider creating other measures that would focus on protecting animals from cruel treatment instead of laws that hamstring people gathering evidence of the cruel treatment.


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