Some academics have branded United States "ag-gag" laws, now in force in Iowa and Utah and awaiting consideration in other U.S. states that make it a criminal offence to photograph or make a sound or video recording of an animal facility without the owner's permission, as "sinister". The statement was made in the editorial of the Journal of Animal Ethics, published this month by the University of Illinois Press, by Professors Andrew Linzey and Priscilla Cohn, who note that the objections to these laws seem to have been "insufficiently regarded in the preceding debates in these states, so perhaps they need to be spelled out." They list five reasons for concern:
- First, the majority of Americans eat meat and animal products. They have an interest in what they are eating, in how the animals are treated, and the result in that meat were bred, raised, fed, transported, handled, treated, and slaughtered.
- Second, these animal facilities, though they may be privately owned, are subject to the laws of the land that apply to the treatment of farmed animals. If they continue to be hidden from public gaze, it is difficult to see what conditions prevail, who is responsible when things go wrong (e.g., when even the minimal standards are not adhered to), and what penalties are in force.
- Third, although again they may be privately owned, these "animal facilities" are the recipients of public subsidies. Every taxpayer in the U.S. has a right to know what is being funded in his or her name.
- Fourth, the ag-gag laws prevent consumers and taxpayers not only from knowing but also from seeing and judging for themselves.
- Last, what we see, or are allowed to see, affects our moral judgment.
The editors conclude, "We can only hope that these laws will soon be judged unconstitutional. One of the redeeming features of U.S. law is the way in which state or even federal legislation can be referred back to fundamental principles. Some may judge that it can only be a matter of time. But in the meantime, the truth about animal farming in these states will be denied to those who have a right to know."
The journal has been launched by a U.S. and United Kingdom academic partnership with the goal of widening international debate about the moral status of animals, and is the result of collaboration between the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and the University of Illinois Press. It is edited by the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Center for Animal Ethics, and Professor Priscilla Cohn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University and Associate Director of the Center.