The first “ag-gag,” or whistleblower suppression, bill of 2014 has been introduced, and will be heard in the Corrections and Criminal Law committee on Tuesday at the Indiana State House. In 2013, 11 states saw introductions of these bills aimed at covering up animal abuse, unsafe working conditions and environmental violations on industrial factory farms. None of these bills passed in 2013, in the face of widespread opposition.
One of those bills, Indiana’s SB373, was defeated after criticism from Indiana newspaper editorial boards, Indiana citizens and a broad coalition of public interest groups. Despite this widespread disapproval, the agribusiness lobby is now pushing an even more radical and overreaching anti-whistleblower bill, SB101.
If passed, SB101 could make felons out of whistleblowers exposing unethical or illegal activities on industrial farms. A coalition of civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, animal welfare, legal, workers’ rights, journalism and First Amendment organizations is calling on the Indiana legislature to reject the bill.
Paul Shapiro, HSUS vice president of farm animal protection, said: “If the meat industry continues to push for these anti-whistleblower bills, it will continue to erode the public’s trust. Ag-gag bills are at odds with core American values such as preventing cruelty to animals, and align agribusiness groups against free speech, animal protection and transparency.”
Ann Church, vice president of state affairs for the ASPCA, said: “SB 101 would threaten a wide range of animals by turning into criminals the very people in a position to document their abuse, and allow Indiana’s agriculture industry to further cloak itself in secrecy. Instead of coming up with legislation to hide animal abuse and food safety violations from public view, lawmakers should focus on achieving accountability for those who cause the problems in the first place.”
Critics argue whistleblower suppression bills infringe on First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press. A broad spectrum of national interest groups has spoken out against these bills.
- Of the 15 ag-gag bills introduced in 11 states last year, none passed.
- Meat industry consultant and scientist Temple Grandin said that, “[ag-gag bills are] the stupidest thing that ag ever did.”
- Investigations have played a vital role in exposing animal welfare and food safety issues related to industrialized agriculture on a national level. In 2008, an HSUS undercover investigation of a slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., revealed horrific animal abuse, resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history and led to a successful multi-million dollar federal false claims act lawsuit.
- Several recent undercover investigations by The HSUS have resulted in agricultural employees being charged and convicted of criminal offenses, and facilities being shut down because of legal violations.
- More than 40 newspapers nationwide editorialized against similar ag-gag bills in 2013. The Indianapolis Star, Indiana’s biggest paper, wrote: “for the General Assembly to approve legislation that turns even well-motivated whistle-blowing into a potential crime would be extremely misguided.”