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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: The campaign for greater animal farming and abattoir transparency goes to Australia’s High Court

The first Australian animal activist to be charged under Australian ag-gag legislation was Chris Delforce for publishing footage taken from intensive piggeries and abattoirs in NSW.

SERRIN RUTLEDGE-PRIOR: An Australian animal advocacy group is taking its campaign for greater transparency in animal-use industries from the streets to the High Court. Last week, the Farm Transparency Project filed a case to challenge the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (SDA), a New South Wales law that restricts the use of cameras and audio recorders on private premises. If the bid is successful, it’ll be the first time so-called “ag-gag” legislation in Australia will be challenged in the High Court.

Animal rights groups claim laws like the SDA are increasingly silencing those advocating for greater transparency around animal-use industries. Meanwhile, organisations representing animal-use industries, such as the National Farmers Federation, say covert footage represents a “huge breach of privacy”… “ag-gag” describes laws that can be used to target animal advocates and whistleblowers bringing operations of commercial animal-use industries, especially intensive factory farms, to light.

The United States was the first country to pass ag-gag legislation, with a Kansas law in 1990 criminalising the act of taking covert pictures or film in animal facilities. Since then, ag-gag legislation has been introduced in most US states, and is in effect in several states. But since 2013, pressure from animal advocacy groups has seen courts in a handful of US states strike down ag-gag laws as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech under the First Amendment…

Australia has followed the trend by repurposing existing laws (such as the SDA) as ag-gag laws, or
passing new and explicitly anti-animal activist laws. The latter includes the Right to Farm Bill 2019 in NSW, which introduced harsh penalties for trespassing on agricultural land… The first Australian animal activist to be charged under Australian ag-gag legislation — in this case, the SDA — was Chris Delforce, the executive director of the Farm Transparency Project.

Before a NSW court dismissed the charges, Delforce faced a maximum of five years in prison for allegedly publishing footage purportedly taken from intensive piggeries and abattoirs in NSW… In the current High Court bid, the Farm Transparency Project argues the NSW law represents an unreasonable restriction on the implied freedom of political communication. According to the group, the SDA unduly restricts this implied freedom because, unlike similar laws in other Australian jurisdictions, the NSW law doesn’t exempt material published in the public interest…

Recent scandals surrounding the mistreatment of animals in the live export, greyhound racing, and horse racing industries weren’t uncovered in the course of standard compliance processes. Instead, it took covert footage to capture evidence of abuses. This, in turn, led to widespread condemnation of the industries and, finally, to formal investigations… Given such revelations of breaches of food safety laws in animal processing facilities, consumers have a strong interest in having access to information about how their meat, dairy and eggs are produced…

At the end of the day, these activists are filling a regulatory gap. Putting barriers between consumers and animal-use industries by criminalising the activists’ actions won’t encourage trust in such industries… As Paul McCartney once claimed, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian”. Failing to prioritise transparency will reinforce the idea these industries have something to hide.

Rather than attempting to silence groups such as the Farm Transparency Project with laws like the SDA, animal-use industries should respond by developing and enforcing stringent standards of transparency and compliance. Only this will demonstrate they have nothing to hide. SOURCE…


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