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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

Coalition Welcomes Defeat of All 11 Anti-Whistleblower Ag Gag Bills in 2013

Food Integrity Campaign | July 29, 2013

FIC and many of our diverse coalition partners contributed to a statement released today by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) regarding anti-whistleblower Ag Gag legislation.

The statement reads in part:

… a broad spectrum of public interest groups today welcomed the defeat of all 11 ag-gag/anti-whistleblower bills that were introduced during 2013 legislative sessions across the country. North Carolina’s session ended on Friday without a vote on Senate Bill (SB) 648, which would have suppressed whistleblower investigations at farms and other facilities. In addition to North Carolina, ag-gag/anti-whistleblower legislation was introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming, but no bills became law.

Ag-gag bills usually contain one or more of three provisions designed to suppress whistleblowing: the ban of photography/video on premises; the criminalization of securing a job under “false pretenses” (whistleblowers sometimes gain employment at facilities in order to obtain evidence of cruelty); and mandatory reporting of documented abuse within a short and arbitrary timeframe. Mandatory reporting provisions became more common in the most recent legislative sessions, and while on their face appear to support prosecution of abuse, actually hinder meaningful and effective investigations by mandating reporting before adequate documentation can occur. North Carolina’s bill included all three types of provisions.

Because ag-gag/whistleblower suppression bills aim to criminalize investigations on agricultural facilities that can expose animal welfare, worker, environmental, food safety and other violations and abuse through unconstitutional provisions, a wide array of interest groups have strongly opposed them, including civil liberties, environmental, prosecution, First Amendment, labor and even some farming organizations—70 of which have signed a strong opposition statement.

FIC Director Amanda Hitt was also quoted in the statement, responding to the failure of Ag Gag bills in 2013.

Amanda Hitt, director of the Food Integrity Campaign at the Government Accountability Project said: “The mere suggestion that any state would criminalize truth telling in agriculture creates a chilling effect for would-be whistleblowers. But the public has spoken and clearly prefers to know the truth about what’s for dinner. Hopefully other states are watching and reconsidering ag-gag.”

Other organizations also commented on how Ag Gag laws threaten whistleblowers. Quotes included:

Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations said: “Ag-gag legislation threatens a wide array of public interests—including animal welfare and food safety—by silencing the very people in a position to document abuse. We hope the defeat of these 11 bills encourages lawmakers to shift their focus toward achieving accountability for those who are inflicting abuse on animals and putting consumers at risk instead of focusing on misleading efforts to suppress whistleblowers who want to expose those problems.”

Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch said: “The defeat of ag-gag bills across the country is good news for the public, who need to know how their food is produced and what the meat industry has to hide. These bills would have silenced whistleblowers who have repeatedly exposed practices used to raise animals and produce food that endanger public health.”

Joann Lo, executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance said: “The Food Chain Workers Alliance is relieved that all of the whistleblower suppression bills proposed this year did not pass. These bills would have limited workers ability to speak up about dangerous working conditions and practices, not only in the food system but throughout all industries. Instead of focusing on limiting free speech, these legislatures should improve working conditions and protect public health, food safety, and animal welfare.”

Learn more about Ag Gag here.