As with many of the most exploitative and environmentally devastating industries, animal agriculture relies on segregation and secrecy. The treatment of the animals—and their animality itself—must be concealed. The pollution and environmental consequences must be kept safely distant from the people who “matter” and their property values. And the people who perform the work must be desperate and marginalized. For the industry to thrive, these costs need to be invisible to the politically and economically significant members of the community.

Ag-gag laws play an important role in maintaining this secrecy. Such laws seek to prevent the dissemination of information about the conditions in, for example, factory farms and slaughterhouses by punishing “whistleblowers and undercover activists…for recording footage of what goes on in animal agriculture.” They use the threat of legal coercion to stop people from reporting on animal abuse, workplace violations, and corporate pollution under the guise of protecting trade secrets. In doing so, they help perpetuate the myths surrounding animal agriculture: that it is on a par with small family farms, that it provides a happy, healthy working environment, that it supports the health of the country, and that the animals are treated as well as their raising-to-be-slaughtered permits.

While ag-gag laws help hide the treatment of animals and the environmental impacts of industrial animal agriculture, I am interested in how they affect the often noncitizen and undocumented workers that the industry exploits. Drawing on Carol Adams’ discussion of the invisible animal machines at the heart of animal agriculture, I claim that ag-gag laws contribute to the invisibilization of the human laboring machines who are also necessary for the system’s profitability. Such laws further disempower a population that is already living at the margins of society and make it even more difficult for these workers to report on the harms to themselves, animals, and the environment.


* Working paper by

Michael Ball-Blakely, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas El Paso

[ENA Centre for Political Theory | Co-ordinator: Yiannis Kouris]