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Animal groups respond to Utah's attempt to silence factory farm whistle-blowers

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – Animal rights activists, academics and journalists from across the country are setting their sights on Utah and its Agricultural Operational Interference Law. The law commonly known as “ag gag” criminalizes whistle blowers and makes it illegal to take pictures or video of alleged animal abuse at factory farms.

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – Animal rights activists, academics and journalists from across the country are setting their sights on Utah and its Agricultural Operational Interference Law. The law commonly known as “ag gag” criminalizes whistle blowers and makes it illegal to take pictures or video of alleged animal abuse at factory farms.

Animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund say Utah is attempting to silence factory farm whistle blowers. They filed a suit earlier this summer claiming the law violates the 1st and 14th amendments. But the state is trying to get that suit thrown out of court. Tuesday the plaintiff’s response to the appeal was filed in court.

It’s videos like this the one Amy Meyer shot outside the Smith’s meat packaging plant in Draper that the agricultural industry doesn’t want you to see.  The video, shot back in February, shows a cow being carried on a bulldozer.

When we spoke to Meyer in April she told ABC 4 Utah, “They were transporting it in a tractor to somewhere and you could see the cow moving around and being hauled away in this tractor and it looked like an act of animal cruelty.

Police were called and Meyer became the first person ever to be charged under Utah’s ag gag law. Because Meyer was on public property the chargers were eventually dropped, but Meyer is still fighting back. She’s joined the ALDF, PETA and others their lawsuit against Utah’s ag gag law.

Lawyers involved in the case say more and more of these laws are popping up across the country because the agricultural industry doesn't want images like these to reach the public.

Justin Marceau told ABC 4 Utah, "When the investigations come out public opinion turns and we see a push towards safer, smaller farms and so the industries best response was to shut down the people coming in all together."

But Utah lawmakers say it's about property rights and protecting companies from trespassers who wish to do them harm.

Tuesday's filing quotes several of the bill's sponsors defending the need for the law. Rep. John Mathis is quoted as saying these types of undercover investigations are used for quote "the advancement of animal rights nationally, which in our industry we find egregious."

Rep. Michael Noel is quoted as saying he opposes letting "these groups like PETA and some of these organizations control what we do in this country - a country that feeds the world.”

Rep. Lee Perry said the undercover investigations are quote "just another version of domestic terrorism."

The groups fighting Utah’s law say that kind of talk is what might win them the case. They point out that the Supreme Court has previously ruled laws based on hostility towards a particular group are unconstitutional.

ABC 4 contacted all the lawmakers quoted above and only Rep. Perry responded.  He says he spent three years investigating animal crimes as a law enforcement officer for the criminal investigation bureau. While he has no problem with exposing animal abuse, he says it needs to be done the right way by trained investigators.

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