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Effort to Limit Undercover Investigations at NC Farms

PHOTO: This cow, unable to walk, was discovered in a Humane Society of the United States investigation. Courtesy HSUS
PHOTO: This cow, unable to walk, was discovered in a Humane Society of the United States investigation. Courtesy HSUS
May 15, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina is the 11th state this year to consider legislation that would make it illegal to conduct private investigations into agricultural practices in the state.

The so-called "Ag Gag" bill is opposed by some animal- and consumer-rights groups, who argue the investigations are necessary to make sure the industry is using the safest and cleanest methods to raise livestock.

"The industry's response hasn't been to clean up their bad behavior and prevent these abuses from happening in the first place, but to criminalize anyone who exposes these cruelties to the public," said Matt Dominguez, policy manager for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. "The public has a right to know where their food is coming from."

The "Commerce Protection Act" would ban photography at a place of employment, and make it illegal for anyone to make false statements or omit information on a job application. Working at places such as factory farms is a tactic animal-rights activists have use to conduct undercover investigations.

Information gathered from the undercover investigations is used to prosecute for animal cruelty. In April, a Butterball employee pleaded guilty to animal abuse at a Hoke County facility.

If the broadly written bill is passed, Dominguez said, it could be used to prosecute people who lie on their application just to get the job.

"If we're going to make exaggerating or embellishing on a resume a criminal offense," he said, "we better start building more jails because there's probably nobody that hasn't stretched the truth on their job application."

"Ag Gag" bills have been proposed in 10 other states this year, but none has become law. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam this week vetoed similar legislation. Dominguez said the bills' lack of success proves that there's widespread public opposition to laws that would prevent investigating animal cruelty cases.

"You're seeing these bills pop up, being backed by industry, and you're seeing them defeated in every single state," Dominguez said. "Essentially, North Carolina's bill is the only one that's really left."

North Carolina's bill is being considered in the Senate Rules Committee.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC