Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill that would punish whistleblowers who expose animal welfare, environmental, and workers’ rights abuses on factory farms and slaughterhouses. It’s a huge victory for Tennesseans, but it also has national significance. The tables have turned on Big Ag, and corporate front groups are desperately trying to pick up the pieces of the worst PR blunder in the industry’s history.
The governor’s office received more than 5,000 phone calls and 16,000 emails, nearly all of them opposing the bill. My petition on Change.org alone has more than 100,000 signatures opposing ag-gag.
The opposition in Tennessee came from clergy, the ACLU, unions, the Humane Society, whistleblower groups, prosecutors, environmental groups and more.
And let’s not forget this comes on the heels of the first ag-gag prosecution in the country. Just 24 hours after that story broke on this website, the prosecutor dropped all charges.
In short: Public awareness is absolutely toxic for this industry, and for ag-gag laws.
Gov. Haslam’s statement about his veto was brief but powerful. He said 1) a recent report by the attorney general that called the bill “constitutionally suspect,” 2) the bill violates the state shield law, which protects journalists, and 3) prosecutors say the bill would hinder animal cruelty investigations.
That’s a terse but damning indictment of not just the Tennessee bill, but ag-gag nationally. These bills can’t pass constitutional muster. They put animals, the environment, workers, and public safety at risk. And that message is getting out loud and clear to a very wide public coalition.
Thank you to everyone who has been following the issue on this website and making calls, sending emails, and signing petitions. Let’s build off this victory and hand the industry another embarrassing defeat, this time in North Carolina. The North Carolina bill is so broad that it’s not just “ag-gag.” It’s called the Commerce Protection Act and it applies the language and anti-consumer spirit of ag-gag to all of manufacturing.
Clearly other industries think that Big Ag is on to something, and want their own designer laws that would allow them to operate in secrecy, shielded from public opinion.
Something tells me they’re in for a surprise.