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North Carolina 'Ag-Gag' Law Allows Farm Cruelty to Go Unchecked

Whistleblowers in the state are put at a serious disadvantage.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Using undercover videos to hold mass-market farms accountable and combat cruelty has been a successful tactic for animal rights groups. But in North Carolina, it's a tactic that is now illegal. The state recently enacted a law that prevents public distribution of such videos, writes the New York Times, taking the whistle out of the whistleblower's mouth.

The North Carolina law, passed last year, vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, and overridden by the state's legislature, took effect January 1. Violators face stiff financial penalties. They can be sued by business owners for bad publicity and be forced to pay fines of $5,000 for each day that person is gathering information or recording without authorization. And, the law goes beyond protecting cruelty at factory farms. It applies to all workplaces, which, as the Times notes, includes nursing homes, daycares, and veterans facilities.

Individuals who report report information within the workplace or to government authorities are not subject to punishment, but making the public aware of cruelty places much more pressure on companies to reform. After the activism group Mercy for Animals released an undercover video of Tennessee farm workers clubbing sickly chickens to death, McDonald's dropped that farm as a supplier. That's a massive account to lose, and there's no guarantee it would have happened if the Mercy for Animals video had not been made public.

Speaking to the Charlotte Observer, Mercy for Animals general council Vandhana Bala said the North Carolina law was passed by "a corrupt legislature," and the group is seeking "every way possible" to overturn the law. The Times declares the legislation unconstitutional and a violation of Americans' right to free speech. A "coalition of animal protection, food safety, environmental, and civil liberties groups" has filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the law, according to Mercy for Animals's website, and more legal challenges are expected.

"Mercy For Animals, along with most Americans, rejects North Carolina's ag-gag law as a shameful attempt to protect animal abusers," reads a blog post on the organization's website. "This lawsuit is one of many legal challenges likely to be advanced against the unconstitutional law. MFA will diligently work to counter this and other ag-gag laws through a variety of tactics and legal approaches."