Do You Really Want to See How the Sausage Is Made?

Republican Washington state Rep. Joe Schmick maintains his goal is not limiting your right to see how the sausage and other food products you love are made.

Schmick said he simply wants to protect the farmer and provide a “strong deterrent” to those who would smuggle their cameras behind the scenes of corporate farming operations.

He has proposed legislation that would criminalize investigative reporting inside agricultural facilities.

Schmick’s proposal would allow the prosecution of anyone who sneaks into an agricultural operation and/or uses audio/video equipment to record operations of the farm without permission. They could be charged with the crime of “interference with agricultural production.”

That crime would be a gross misdemeanor and a guilty verdict could mean jail time, a fine and an order to pay damages.

Schmick’s House Bill 1104 would also make it a Class B felony to actually damage the farming operation — a crime called “criminal sabotage” — which is considered to be a step above interference with agricultural production.

Washington legislative leaders have promised Schmick at the very least a committee hearing on his controversial proposal that falls into the category described derisively by opponents such as the ACLU, the Humane Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund as “Ag-Gag” legislation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil and animal rights organizations believe it’s important you know the way your favorite foods are made by people who, the Humane Society says, beat young pigs.

Doug Honig, the communications director of the ACLU of Washington, told PMJ the organization has not yet looked at the details of Schmick’s bill but he is pretty sure they will not like it.

“In general, the ACLU has opposed Ag-Gag laws because they violate free speech and free press rights, which include journalistic exposes of industrial animal production,” Honig said. “Such laws aim to silence would-be whistle-blowers by intimidating journalists and activists from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The ACLU and other organizations fighting Ag-Gag legislation claim the genesis of the concept goes back to a 2003 American Legislative Exchange Council report that warned of terrorists who were taking aim at America’s food supply.

“Over the past decade extreme animal rights and environmental militants have used violence as a tool to force communities, businesses, local municipalities, and individuals to comport to their views,” wrote the authors of the ALEC report.

“Acts of terrorism occur locally, hence it is important that state governments ensure a legal structure is in place to prevent, contain, or investigate the terrorists who attempt to destroy our freedom and quality of life through violence rather than use the tools of democracy provided under the Constitution to promote a political cause,” ALEC report editors Sandy Liddy Bourne and Matthew McNab concluded.

If Schmick’s proposal is approved — and legislative reaction in Olympia has been skeptical, to say the least — Washington would not be the first state to have so-called Ag-Gag legislation on its books.

Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa, and Missouri already have Ag-Gag laws in place. Two of them — Utah and Idaho — are being sued because of their Ag-Gag laws by journalists and animal and civil rights groups.

Schmick, a member of the Washington State House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, freely admits his legislation was influenced by the Idaho Ag-Gag law.

That is another reason Honig is confident the ACLU won’t like it.

"The Idaho law is deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech. It even would criminalize a whistle-blower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace," said Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one of the plaintiffs that filed suit against the Idaho law in March 2014.

“These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, law enforcement investigations and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply,” according to a statement signed by the ACLU and other plaintiffs.

One recent PETA investigation revealed multiple beatings of pigs with metal rods and workers sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces. A supervisor was filmed kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move and told the investigator, "Make her cry."

An ACLU spokesperson said the lawsuit argues Idaho’s law silences would-be whistleblowers by intimidating journalists and activists from exercising their First Amendment rights.

But Idaho Sen. Jim Patrick (R), the sponsor of the Ag-Gag legislation being challenged in court, and former Farm Bureau Member of the Year, told ABC News the law brought relief to farmers around the state.

"There are so many things that these groups don't like. We feel like any one of us could be a target," he said.

Federal judges have dismissed several plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit filed against the Idaho law and another filed against the Ag-Gag law in Utah.

Both judges are going to allow these cases to go to trial if the parties involved can’t reach an out-of-court settlement.

And since nobody involved in the court cases seems willing to bend on the issue of letting you see how the sausage is really made, these laws will have to go to a jury and begin a slow journey to determining the constitutionality of Ag-Gag.