Over a century after its publication, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, remains one of the most impactful pieces of investigative literature ever published. During 1904, in an effort to expose the heinous working conditions of Chicago’s meat packing industry, Sinclair went under disguise as a factory worker for seven weeks. While Sinclair’s purpose for The Jungle was to propel federal reform against inhumane work conditions, it was the first-hand depiction of the callous slaughtering and unsanitary processing of meat products which led to national uproar. Gaining the attention of national political leaders, including President Theodore Roosevelt, The Jungle influenced Congress to pass The Meat Inspection Act of 1906.
Sinclair’s “guerilla” journalism method has influenced generations of social activists and more animal protection groups are turning to undercover video investigations to expose criminal and inhumane practices on factory farms that would otherwise go unnoticed by the public. Sadly, however, this type of activism is now being criminalized throughout the United States. “Ag-Gag” laws, a term first coined by New York Times food journalist Mark Bittman in 2011, are laws currently valid in six states which criminalize acts related to undercover investigations of daily agricultural activities. While the United States Constitution bars federal and state laws which abridge the freedom of speech, Ag-Gag laws not only have the purpose and effect of chilling free speech, but they also impede the public enlightenment of critical social issues including animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and environmental safety. The purpose of this article is to investigate and analyze various legal frameworks to attack Ag-Gag laws on multiple fronts.
Jeffrey Vizcaino, Sinclair's Nightmare: SLAPP-ing Down Ag-Gag Legislation as Content-based Restrictions Chilling Protected Free Speech, 7 J. Animal & Envtl. L. 49 (2016).