After winning a bill-killing veto in Tennessee, the Humane Society of the United States is taking to the airwaves in North Carolina, the latest venue for “ag-gag” wars. North Carolina’s “ag-gag” bill, Senate Bill 648, is not even eligible for any further consideration on its own this session, but its contents could end up in another measure.
Still the two animal welfare groups have opted to launch an advertising campaign against the “ag-gag” provisions are backed by the state Chamber of Commerce and other powerful business allies. But the NC chamber says SB 648 is not an “ag-gag” bill as it is not focused solely on agriculture and does not loosen whistleblower protections in state law.
“Section 1 of SB 648 makes it unlawful for a potential job applicant to lie or fraudulently misrepresent who they are at the time of hiring for the purpose of gaining access to a facility. A potential whistleblower is still protected by law,” the NC chamber statement said.
“Undercover investigations are in no way being targeted with this bill. In fact, the bill strengthens guidelines to shut down abuse more quickly,” it continued. “The proposal says that if an employee does spot abuse, theft or any other illegal activity and a recording of some kind is made, that employee would be required to turn over that audio or video over to local law enforcement within 24 hours. Law enforcement is the proper authority to investigate unlawful activity that may be occurring, not a third-party activist group or the media. Law enforcement officials are in the best position to make sure the abuse, theft or other illegal activity is ended in a timely manner and the individuals involved are prosecuted to the fullest.”
No “ag-gag” bill has become law anywhere in the country this legislative season. But the animal welfare groups see North Carolina as potentially different in that a broader based business coalition backed the measure, and not just animal agriculture and its allies support it. In Tennessee, HSUS hit the airwaves after an ag-gag bill landed on the Governor’s desk. They’ve not waited that long in North Carolina.
“The ad urges state lawmakers to block a special interest bill that would make it a crime for investigative journalists and advocates for the protection of animals, consumers and worker safety to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity at industrial agriculture facilities,” an HSUS statement said.
The ad, now airing, includes footage from numerous whistleblowing investigations that led to criminal convictions, meat recalls for food safety violations and more. These important investigations, HSUS claims, wouldn’t have been possible had anti-whistleblower legislation like SB648 been in effect.
Last week, Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of HSUS, sent a letter to the NC chamber asking it to withdraw its support for this dangerous bill, stating, “Under the guise of business protection, this bill would prevent the exposure of animal cruelty and food safety threats as well as make it a crime for employees to report on illegal or unethical activity, leaving consumers to wonder what a few North Carolina businesses have to hide.”
The HSUS has made repeated attempts to work with Chamber representatives to modify the bill and omit language that would outlaw whistleblowing, but the Chamber refused to move from its position of working to silence whistleblowers.
Last year, an undercover investigation at a Butterball plant in North Carolina showed apparent filthy conditions and blatant animal abuse, including employees kicking, stomping on and hurling injured animals into small crates. It also showed many animals with broken bones and gaping wounds covered with flies and maggots.
In his veto of the Tennessee bill, Governor Bill Haslam said one of the reasons for his action was the concern that the “ag-gag” law would make it more difficult to prosecute charges of animal cruelty.
An HSUS undercover investigation into a Chino, CA slaughterhouse in 2008 led off the largest beef recall in U.S. history out of concern for both animal cruelty and food safety.© Food Safety News