The need to include animal protection in public health policies

by Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA

The current issue of Mother Jones offers an article on the troubling and growing list of State "gag laws" which make it a crime to disclose contamination and abuse in animal breeding and slaughter houses.  Ted Genoways in "Gagged by Big Ag," describes the events and players leading to:

laws (enacted in 8 states and introduced in 15 more) are viewed by many as undercutting—and even criminalizing—the exercise of First Amendment rights by investigative reporters and activists, whom the industry accuses of "animal and ecological terrorism."

A colleague alerted me to Genoways' piece, and offered this synopsis of the Ag Gag trends:

  • 1990: Kansas adopts first gag-law that prohibits anyone from entering a private animal facility for the purpose of filming in order to damage the enterprise conducted at the facility.
  • 1991: Colorado introduces the "veggie libel" law to allow producers to sue those who disparage their products...Governor vetoes.
  • 1996: Texas Beef Group sues Oprah Winfrey for $11 million for saying "it has stopped me cold from eating another burger" –beef prices dropped 7 cents a pound.  Winfrey said it after someone from the Humane Society of the U.S. said Mad Cow Disease was a potential epidemic worse than AIDS.  The jury rules in favor of Ms. Winfrey.
  • 2006: The Federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is signed by GW Bush, basically creating a "registry" of those who might want to film in order to commit criminal activities OR defame the enterprise OR the owner.
  • 2012: Missouri passes "Quick Reporting" law, so those who film abuse, must turnover film to police within 24 hours.
  • 2012: Beef Products Inc. files $1.2 billion lawsuit against ABC NEWS for its "Pink Slime" investigation.
  • 2013:  Amy Meyers becomes the first person charged under the State of Utah's AgGag law, for filming outside the barbed wire fence of a Smith Meatpacking slaughterhouse.  The owner of plant is town's mayor.  The charges dropped when made public by blogger.

Genoways' article provides a U.S. map showing the eight States with AgGag laws and the nine States with laws pending.

There is growing concern about mistreatment of animals and its consequences for public health.  In a recent commentary published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, Aysha Akhtar describes how effective animal protection would have at least three important effects:

  • Reduce the incidence of emerging in factions, as poor treatment of animals contributes to the spread of new infectious diseases.
  • Medical research would also benefit from better animal treatment.
  • Domestic violence might be reduced is animal mistreatment were seen as  sentinel events that could trigger early intervention.

She concludes with:

 "By ignoring the overlaps between human health and the treatment of animals, we may fail to see solutions to critical public health problems.  If we do not recognize this connection, where it exists, opportunities to tackle important health issues may be lost."

Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA is co-Editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy.  He directed the Vermont Department of Health, the Colorado Department of Health, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. National Vaccine Program.


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