Have you taken some time to commend a truth-teller lately? To celebrate National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, our colleagues at the Government Accountability Project, whistleblowers, and other advocates gathered in Washington DC yesterday to honor whistleblowers’ brave contributions to society at the 2014 Whistleblower Summit.
As their protections have improved over the past few years, whistleblowers are increasingly facing criminal investigations and prosecutions as part of retaliation by employers. As part of today’s Summit, FIC Director Amanda Hitt was featured in a panel that explored this topic as it relates to Ag Gag laws.
These bills, which have been popping up all over the country, seek to make it a crime for those working in the agricultural sector to report a crime – animal abuse, for example. Ag Gag laws target whistleblowers by criminalizing the act of taking video in slaughterhouses and other agricultural facilities. These bills are a clear attempt by agribusiness to intimidate whistleblowers who are often the last resort to keep the public informed when violations and threats to food integrity arise.
In the past, undercover video footage has been essential in exposing major food industry violations. For example, in 2008, an undercover investigation at a California slaughter plant exposed rampant abuse of downer cows – animals that are too weak to stand on their own and are more likely to carry BSE, otherwise known as “Mad Cow Disease.” The exposé initiated the largest meat recall in the United States – over 143 million pounds of beef – some of which was headed to the school lunch program.
“Imagine you are a low-paid, undocumented worker. Your income is the only thing keeping your family fed. Imagine what it would take to tell the truth about wrongdoing at your job, knowing you could be committing a crime,” Hitt said. “These laws create a chilling effect for anyone who works in the food industry.”
Ag Gag laws are a scary and dangerous trend that should give rise to concern for anyone who cares about animal welfare, food safety, and environmental and public health. Certainly, truth-tellers in the agricultural industry must be commended on a day dedicated to celebrating whistleblowers.
Alyssa Doom is Investigation & Outreach Coordinator for the Food Integrity Campaign.