Imagine you work for Tyson, a company known for its cruelty against its chickens. Your first day on the job you see chickens in a crowded building covered in their own waste and blood that are being prepared for slaughter.
You decide that you have to do something to change it, but because of North Carolina’s “Ag-Gag” law passed earlier this year, you can’t.
The law, known as the Property Protection Act, now criminalizes the unearthing of abusive behaviors in institutionalized facilities.
Not only does this affect institutions that exploit animals such as factory farms, but it also applies to places like nursing homes, childcare centers and veteran treatment facilities.
One consequence is that whistleblowers in these institutions may face is a fine of up to $5,000, as well as imprisonment for trying to document illegal actions.
Fortunately, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch and the Government Accountability Project filed a lawsuit in January challenging the Property Protection Act.
The lawsuit alleged that the law infringes upon “our rights to free speech, to a free press and to petition our government and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply and animals at risk.”
Even as this law is being challenged, it is important to understand just how detrimental the effect of this law is and not just for people who are invested in the fight for animal rights. Fundamentally, this is about the right of people to have information that can prevent power abuse by authorities.
This act not only affects institutions such as factory farms, but it also places like daycare centers, veteran rehabilitation facilities and senior care centers. This has become far more than an animal rights issue. It has become an issue for all living beings.
Another recent law, called Burt’s Law, increases penalties for caretakers who are abusive toward patients in nursing homes. The Property Protection Act, passed just weeks after Burt’s Law was passed, essentially nullifies this law by preventing employees who see inappropriate behavior in their employer’s institution from reporting it to a higher power.
In addition, the AARP actively opposed this bill, stating that “it goes too far and applies to all businesses, not just agricultural businesses, and could discourage whistleblowing by employees.” They also emphasized the “importance of having employees ready to blow the whistle when abuse, neglect or unethical acts are occurring in and around our most vulnerable populations of seniors and kids.”
As students, we all can and should take action and raise our voices. If you think institutions should be held responsible for their actions, sign the petition on the “Ag-gag” website. You will be helping animals, seniors, children and veterans in North Carolina by giving them a voice.
Lippy, a sophomore nutrition and foods major from Huntersville, is a columnist.