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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

Tennessee’s Ag Gag (Modeled After North Carolina Law) Didn’t Last Long

Food Integrity Campaign | February 10, 2016

The latest in Ag Gag news is certainly a win for transparency advocates. Just three weeks after being introduced in January 2016, Tennessee’s Ag Gag bill has died in the state’s legislature.

This is good news for food integrity supporters, and for all those who demand accountability across all corporate sectors. This latest version of Tennessee’s Ag Gag was modeled after North Carolina’s broad anti-whistleblower law, which aims to punish truth-tellers who wish to expose employer wrongdoing – in all industries, not just agriculture.

While GAP’s Food Integrity Campaign and its allies fight North Carolina’s law in federal court, the North Carolina law faces critical scrutiny by prominent editorial boards (including those at the New York Times and various state media outlets). Big Ag’s newest strategy for Ag Gag is faring no better than previous tactics. Each year, the industry switches up its approach to writing these bills – hoping, perhaps, they’ll appear less like the attack on free speech and transparency that they are. But no matter the diction, all Ag Gag versions remain the same: they silence whistleblowers.

Tennessee legislators should have already learned their lesson after receiving the “Jefferson Muzzle Award” in 2014 for trying to pass an earlier Ag Gag bill (that was successfully vetoed). The annual ‘Muzzles’ are awarded to institutions that disregard freedom of speech principles, and Tennessee’s was rightly deserved. It’s a good thing that the state’s latest attempt also failed, but legislators shouldn’t have to be told twice (or thousands of times, for that matter) that Ag Gag goes against what their constituents want.

Public consensus is clear: people want to know what’s going on in the food system. A new survey reinforces that “consumers want accountability and transparency through the entire food supply chain.” Meanwhile, like the NYT editorial board stated, it’s only “because of courageous employees” that Big Ag’s abuses come to light. Bringing the consumers what they want means empowering these employees, not intimidating them into silence.

Let’s hope continued pressure through the courts and the overwhelming public opposition against North Carolina’s anti-whistleblower law will prevent other copycats like the failed attempt in Tennessee. Big Ag’s efforts to camouflage their true intentions on Ag Gag aren’t fooling anyone. We will continue to demand the truth.


Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign – a program of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.