I’ve spent the last year and a half as one of the lead attorneys in a coalition fighting the constitutionality of a law in Idaho that criminalized undercover investigations of animal abuse at factory farms. And a judge just struck down the statute as a violation of free speech. Ask me anything!

Proof of identity is here and here. Here’s an AMA from my last legal victory, freeing a bear from a cage at an ice cream shop.

Edit: Added second verification.

Edit 2: Wow, thanks for all of the questions! I'm fielding calls from the press and will answer as many questions as I can, but may have to skip some of the duplicates. Thanks everyone. Keep 'em coming!

Edit 3: Thanks for all of the great questions, that's all the time I have for today. To learn more about ALDF's work on this issue, please visit our website.

Edit 4: The ALDF online team is insisting I plug our Facebook and Twitter on here too.

Comments: 2920 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

blorgensplor1068 karma

Out of your time of doing this, has anyone from the farms ever tried to justify why they do these actions?

A good book by Temple Grandin (Animals make us human) explains how she goes into farms and audits them on these behaviors. She trained them not to do these behaviors because acting better around the livestock actually increased efficiency and reduced cost by about $1,500 PER DAY.

So what makes these people behave this way when its proven it actually costs them/the company money?

MatthewALDF1308 karma

This is a great question. A lot of these workers are underpaid and exploited in their own way, so we shouldn't be shocked when they lash out in frustration, though of course it's horrible that the animals bear the brunt of it. In my opinion, the real significance of these videos is not the discrete acts of animal cruelty they reveal (e.g. a worker punching a cow), but rather the kinds of routine, normal, commonplace animal suffering that pervades factory farming (e.g., confining animals in small cages, mutilating them without pain relief), or even things that are inherent in producing animal products (e.g., separating newborn calves from their bellowing mothers).

dasbeidler554 karma

Congrats! So what happens next in Idaho? Will this become a precedent in litigation in other states? Do you plan to sue in other states?

MatthewALDF832 karma

Legally speaking, the decision is limited to the Idaho statute, but this statute was part of a concerted nationwide effort to silence critics of animal agriculture, so its reverberations should be felt throughout the country. We already have a case pending challenging Utah's Ag-Gag statute.

omniuni316 karma

Are you planning on challenging the North Carolina bill as well? It's an awful piece of legislation, and I'm ashamed that it passed.

MatthewALDF373 karma

All I can say for now is that we're evaluating our options. But I'm confident that that statute will be declared unconstitutional sooner or later.

kepleronlyknows56 karma

Do you think Idaho will appeal? And do you want them to?

MatthewALDF203 karma

I can't make a prediction, but if they want to continue to spend taxpayer dollars to defend an unconstitutional law, that's their call!

craftygamergirl291 karma

This might be a weird question but...how do you handle the emotional labor/trauma associated with seeing suffering animals when you obviously care passionately about them? I am very sensitive to animal abuse and struggle to view images or even read about it without having it running through my mind for hours and days afterwards. As a vegan, obviously you work to meet your own principles, I'm just interested in how you keep from going crazy.

MatthewALDF480 karma

By taking action. When you move beyond simply bearing witness to suffering, and start to do something to change the conditions of the suffering, it becomes (slightly) more bearable. Also, I run, listen to music, and have a strong support network of friends and family who share my values.

Scire_tacere63 karma

This is where I'm at as well. I feel cripplingly ill after seeing these things. And I desperately want to help, but I cannot stomach the sadness :(

starstuff8990 karma

Come join us at r/vegan! While it never gets easier to face, living in line with your own values does help relieve some of the dissonance you're feeling.

MatthewALDF33 karma

This subreddit is a great place to get the type of support I mention above, even if you don't have a local network.

Ftramza141 karma

Can I first say I respect and admire 100% what you do and was never aware of how terrible these instances can be. To watch that video broke my heart, I always respect people who fight for something they are passionate about. While I'll admit I've always turned a shoulder when watching videos I sat here today and watched through it and am glad you won.

My question is for people like I who are average citizens... Who want to contribute:

1.What can I do on my side to help the cause? 2.How do I know which foods I buy aren't from factory farms?

MatthewALDF246 karma

Thanks for taking the time to watch the video. I know it's not pleasant to watch, but if animals have to endure it, perhaps we should at least have to witness it. I think one of the most significant things each of us can do is simply to refuse to participate in this cruelty by boycotting animal products and adopting a vegan diet. It's easier than it's ever been before (I say this having been vegan for 16 years).

Edit: link formatting

JamesALState122 karma

Having had two successful victories for animal rights and activists alike in the past 8 months, whats your next point of focus?

MatthewALDF166 karma

Unfortunately both of these cases are microcosmic of larger issues: Ricky the bear's story has a happy ending, but there are many more animals languishing at roadside zoos across the country, so we're continuing to find ways to sue for their release to sanctuaries. We're winning the Ag-Gag fight too, but there's a lot of work to be done. If Idaho appeals the decision, we'll be fighting this same statute in the Court of Appeals, and we will continue litigating Ag-Gag in Utah (our case is pending) and potentially in other states as well. There's always more work to be done, but it's nice to have these markers of progress.

mustloverats121 karma

I would just like to thank you for everything you've done.

My question is whether or not you think there is still any hope for getting Tony the truck stop tiger released to a sanctuary?

MatthewALDF120 karma

We're working on it. It's been slow and frustrating, but that's how the legal system works sometimes.

gabepride93 karma

Do you feel consumers have a right to know how livestock is treated in the process of farming?

MatthewALDF271 karma

Yes, the industry thrives on secrecy and promotes false images of how animals are treated before becoming meat. Whatever one's view on the ethics of eating animals, a robust and educated public debate can't take place without access to accurate information.

thecouchpundit86 karma

How the hell can a law like that even get passed?

MatthewALDF154 karma

The agribusiness industry spends a lot of money on lobbying.

coloredwords64 karma

Do you have any advice for a (European) law student who'd like to do similar kind of work?


MatthewALDF88 karma

Yes! Get in touch with Gieri Bolliger. He's awesome.

digitalx3r053 karma

Are you passionate about this case? Are you vegetarian, vegan, or someone who only buys from certified humane farms?

MatthewALDF148 karma

I'm very passionate about it: the suffering of farmed animals is horrific and these efforts to hide it are unconscionable. I also have friends who have conducted undercover investigations and the idea that these kind, compassionate people should be put in jail for their bravery is absurd.

MatthewALDF163 karma

Yes, I'm vegan.

digitalx3r074 karma

All I have left to say is, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for this. I'm sure you've made quite a difference to the inhumane treatment of idaho livestock now that these people can't get away with it.

MatthewALDF62 karma

Thanks for your kind words!

NJSNO49 karma

On your comment "Yes, the industry thrives on secrecy," what can be done legally to fight the marketing images inaccurately portraying animal welfare?

MatthewALDF115 karma

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has been very active in using false advertising laws to expose lies by the meat industry. To give a few examples: we sued a producer of foie gras (which is the fattened liver of a force-fed duck) for advertising that its product was "humane." We also sued an egg company for using misleading pictures and text on their egg cartons, which falsely implied the hens had access to pastures.

NJSNO34 karma

Thank you! How do you feel on the fight against the largest organizations (Purdue, Tyson, Smithfield, etc)?

MatthewALDF71 karma

It's absolutely vital, considering that just a few corporations have such total control over the food supply. The farming industry has consolidated and integrated to such an extreme degree that we have to pay attention to who the major players are.

dsmx45 karma

Does it depress you that we live in a world were you actually have to fight laws like this?

MatthewALDF104 karma

Yeah, but it's nice when we win.

NorbitGorbit42 karma

can you estimate how much money the other side poured into their defense?

MatthewALDF150 karma

It's impossible to really estimate it accurately, but the case took a lot of time. And because the defendant in the case was the Idaho attorney general, the taxpayers will have to foot the bill for this unconstitutional law. It's unfortunate when the government wastes its citizens' money to defend a law designed to benefit a single industry.

someguyx038 karma

Has anyone been caught up under this law since it originally passed?

MatthewALDF82 karma

Not in Idaho, though there have been a few incidents in Utah. But the mere existence of these laws is harmful, even if no one is prosecuted, because they prevent people from engaging in protected free speech, chilling our constitutional rights before we even exercise them.

unloufoque25 karma

If no one was prosecuted, how did you have a ripe claim?

MatthewALDF85 karma

Wolfson v. Brammer, 616 F.3d 1045, 1058 (9th Cir. 2010) (“we apply the principle that one need not await ‘consummation of threatened injury’ before challenging a statute restricting speech, to guard the risk that protected conduct will be deterred. To avoid the chilling effect of restrictions on speech, the Court has endorsed ‘a “hold your tongue and challenge now” approach rather than requiring litigants to speak first and take their chances with the consequences.’” (internal citations omitted))

oreesama37 karma

so what exactly did you get outta this case?

MatthewALDF126 karma

The judge ruled that the statute is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. What that means is that it's unenforceable, and animal protection advocates can again conduct undercover investigations at facilities in Idaho.

uninterestedaccount34 karma

Is there a Mrs. Ag-Gag Defeater?

MatthewALDF27 karma


Dachannien32 karma

In what way is this sort of thing not also trespassing?

MatthewALDF89 karma

Ag-Gag laws criminalize photos and videos taken by people who have a right to be at the facility as employees. Under the Idaho statute, a bona-fide employee could be sent to prison for a year for taking out his cell phone to document animal cruelty if he didn't ask his boss's permission first.

NJSNO28 karma

Have you come up against any nefarious pressure, threats, etc?

MatthewALDF29 karma

No, just a few dirty looks at the court hearings.

chaos43mta326 karma

What do you believe is the most humane method of processing livestock?

Edit: was just asking as someone who will never stop eating meat, but supports humane processing. At some point there needs to be a compromise. Good luck turning a nation vegetarian/vegan.

MatthewALDF96 karma

Sorry to be blunt, but I don't believe there is a humane way to take the life of someone who doesn't want to die.

commandrix24 karma

What are some practical low-cost things that the average person who might never visit a farm can do to help stop animal abuse?

MatthewALDF39 karma

It may seem like a pat answer, but leaving animal products out of your shopping cart is the most direct way you can support a better life for animals.

http://chooseveg.com/ is a good starting place.

Aiolus22 karma

Tremendous work!

What's your next objective? Or have you not had time yet to find one? If you have found a new one how can people help?

MatthewALDF36 karma

We will continue to work against Ag-Gag laws, state-by-state if needed. Anyone can support our ALDF's work by signing up to get action alerts, or becoming a monthly supporter. Even a small monthly contrition helps.

cooltobesmart22 karma

Can you comment on the crocodile farm controversy that sprouted up in the past month? I have a good friend who is involved with the company and he genuinely insists that they do everything they can to keep the process as ethical as possible. Edit: here is the story I am talking about. My friend is an administrator at the farm in Zimbabwe. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/price-of-luxury-storied-brand-tied-to-animal-abuses/

MatthewALDF72 karma

I think you're referring to this investigation. All I can say is the video speaks for itself. And of course "as ethical as possible" is not the same thing as ethical.

cooltobesmart16 karma

That link to PETA is what I'm referencing. It is the same story as the CBS article I linked. Thanks for the response! This was my first AMA question.

MatthewALDF26 karma

Thanks for participating!

youjerkfaceyou20 karma

So as an Idaho resident, let me say Thank You for undertaking this lawsuit. Our Governor and State Legislature seem to have a penchant for walking up to, and quite often over, the line of constitutionality. With other lawsuits, the State has refused to accept Federal District Court decisions, and chose to waste thousands more billable hours fighting these decisions in appeal. Is there any hint that this is the actual end of the Ag-Gag bill, or is there an appeal in the works?

MatthewALDF23 karma

We don't have any indication one way or another, but the upside of an appeal is the opportunity to make precedent for the entire 9th circuit.

gc19 karma

Is there an appeals path beyond the state here, and/or anything relevant to defining precedent for other states?

MatthewALDF24 karma

Idaho could appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal (the federal circuit for the Western US), and then to the US Supreme Court. For now, the decision is confined to Idaho as a matter of binding precedent, but the arguments should be equally persuasive in other states with Ag-Gag laws.

gc18 karma

Do you anticipate Ag Gag laws getting their day in federal court at some point in the near future?

MatthewALDF22 karma

Both of our Ag-Gag cases, Utah and Idaho, are in federal court.