In Pennsylvania and several other states, recently-proposed legislation would make it illegal to photograph, video, or audiotape activities on farms. The so-called “anti-whistleblower bills” have been cropping up around the country – some in states where there have been recent investigations of animal cruelty.
The bills are being lobbied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerful corporate-funded association whose sole purpose is to pass corporate-friendly legislation. According to Humane Society’s Matthew Dominguez, “It speaks volumes that this industry wants to make it a crime to merely take a photo of abusive, unsanitary or otherwise unethical activity.”
But the bills, while seeking to criminalize whistleblowing on farms, are also believed to be an attempt to prohibit transparency of natural gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which often occurs on agricultural land. The disturbing practice of fracking involves pumping a cocktail of toxic chemicals deep into the ground, causing the shale a mile or more below the surface to fracture, thereby creating a pathway through which gases are released.
Pumping undisclosed chemicals into the earth during the process of hydraulic fracturing has resulted in contamination of water tables, illness and death among domestic animals, and acute and chronic health problems resulting from air and water pollution, among other negative effects. In Pennsylvania, fracking is rampant, particularly because of the Marcellus Shale Deposit, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world.
If investigative journalism on farms and agricultural lands is criminalized, the public should be very worried. Pittsburgh, Penn., photographer, Scott Goldsmith, calls the legislation “scary.” “What happens if something illegal, corrupt or environmentally dangerous is happening on the agricultural property?” Goldsmith wrote. “It smells like they’re trying to hide something.”
To see petitions against the “anti-whistle blower” or “ag-gag” bills, visit: http://www.ag-gag.org/ or http://signon.org/sign/no-on-hb683?source=c.url&r_by=141298.
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.