The state legislature in North Carolina pushed through a law that criminalizes undercover investigations at farms and other businesses.
(Photo: ‘Portland Press Herald’/Getty Images)
June 04, 2015 By Willy Blackmore
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.
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Less than a week after North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed House Bill 405, dubbed an ag-gag bill by opponents, the legislation is back in action. Thanks to a veto override vote from both the state senate and the house, the bill, which would criminalize undercover reporting and whistle-blower actions at farms and other businesses, will become law on Jan. 1, 2016.
The legislation, which makes North Carolina the eighth ag-gag state, will be the first such provision to go on the books since Idaho’s governor signed a similar bill into law in 2014.
Although the override vote wasn’t even close—35–15 in the senate and 79–36 in the house—the far-reaching bill has been criticized by animal rights organizations, veteran groups, the AARP, state newspaper editorial boards, and McCrory. When he announced his veto, he said that the law would not do enough to “adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity.”
So, Why Should You Care? North Carolina is a textbook example of how industrialization has changed farming in the United States. Between 1988 and 1997, the population of hogs in the state jumped from 2.6 million to 8 million. During the same period, the number of farms dropped precipitously; there were 15,000 farms raising pigs in 1988, and by 2006, only 2,300 remained. Packing more animals onto fewer farms presents numerous environmental, animal welfare, and environmental concerns—issues that will now be illegal for journalists, activists, or employees to report.
Under the law, the available “remedies” for a person convicted of documenting questionable activity at a business include equitable relief, damages, costs and fees (including paying for attorneys’ fees), and exemplary damages “in the amount of $5,000 for each day, or portion thereof, that a defendant has acted in violation of this section.”
“Unfortunately, North Carolina Republicans kowtowed to the state’s factory farms and voted today to override the governor and pass HB 405 into law,” Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post Thursday. “This law turns whistleblowers into criminals while protecting corporations and people who do terrible things to animals and even vulnerable people.”
The bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon, came to politics late in life—he was 60 when he was first elected in 2010. Professionally, he’s a poultry farmer, raising both turkeys and chickens—two of the state’s major agricultural products—along with pork. For the 2014 election, in which Dixon ran unopposed, the top donor to Jimmy Dixon for HD4 was the North Carolina Pork Council, which gave three payments amounting to $5,000.