Animal Rights

Stossel: No Filming on Farms

Farm groups get politicians to pass laws against secret filming on farms.


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Hundreds of animal rights activists have sneaked onto farms to do hidden-camera investigations. They often expose animal abuse.

Their videos led companies like Walmart and Wendy's to impose stricter animal welfare requirements on companies that sell them meat.

Of course, farm groups don't like the secret recordings. Kay Johnson Smith of the Animal Agriculture Alliance tells John Stossel that the videos often mislead consumers into thinking farm conditions are worse than they are. She accuses activists of "stalking farms to try to capture something that the public doesn't understand."

Her group and others push state politicians to pass so-called "ag-gag" laws that make it a crime to mislead in order to get a job on a farm. (That's often how activists get on farms to film.)

"We call it farm protection," says Johnson Smith.

Stossel asks: "What about everybody else? Why do you get special protection?"

She responds: "The agricultural community is the only business community that this sort of tactic is really being used on right now."

Stossel pushes back: "I'm an investigative reporter. I can't do my job if there are laws that prevent me from showing things. Nobody believes it if you don't see it."

"These activist groups want to eliminate all of animal agriculture," Johnson Smith replies.

Some activists do want to stop people from eating meat. But many of their undercover investigations show real animal abuse. Some have led to convictions of abusive farm workers.

"These groups are exposing issues that are happening," Stossel points out.

"If they really cared about animals," says Johnson Smith, "they would stop [the abuse] right then. Instead, they go weeks and months without reporting anything to the farm owners [because] they want to make their sensational video!"

The Agricultural Alliance now pushes for laws that would force activists to report abuse quickly. But that would kill investigations before they can document much, explains Amanda Howell of the Animal Legal Defense Foundation.

One has to film for multiple days, Howell notes. Otherwise, "a company can say, 'This is a one-off!'"

Johnson Smith replies, "There are bad apples in every industry, but 99.9 percent of farmers do the right thing every single day….Farming isn't always pretty."

Howell says that the only way for the public to learn the truth is if undercover investigations are allowed. "We should all be worried when corporations are supporting laws that impinge our right to free speech."

Stossel agrees. "Whatever you thinks of the activists, and I have problems with many of them, government shouldn't pass special laws that prevent people from revealing what's true."

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.