It’s a small victory, but a big precedent, for the animals at factory farms: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed the ag-gag bill that would effectively prevent undercover investigators and whistleblowers from exposing abuse at the state’s factory farms and slaughterhouses.
The Governor cited three reasons for the veto:
“First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”
Animal protection groups had kept up intense pressure to kill the bill. Haslam’s office received more than 5,000 phone calls and 16,000 emails on the bill — most of them expressing their opposition – and an online petition calling for a veto gathered more than 34,000 signatures.
Members of the clergy had also urged the Governor to veto the bill. Clergy for Justice director Kathy Chambers, who delivered the letter to the Governor’s office, said more than 300 ministers and people of faith had said they were against the bill. Laws that are designed to stop people from seeing the conditions in which their food is produced will not sit well with the American public.
The ag-gag bill was not only aimed at protecting abuse of farmed animals. It would also have stopped investigations of other animals, like the investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. into Tennessee walking horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and burned with caustic chemicals at the stable of “trainer” Jackie McConnell. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
Supporters of the ag-gag bill, however, are not about to give up. And the Governor encouraged legislators to come up with another version of the bill that meets the concerns of the state’s attorney general.
Similar laws are pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, California, Indiana and Nebraska. They’ve also been proposed in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and are expected to be introduced in Vermont, Minnesota and North Carolina, too. (How the laws and bills work in the different states is well outlined in this recent article in The Atlantic.)
But there are concerns that these kinds of laws may backfire on the factory farm industry. Last week, prosecutors dropped their case against a woman who’d been charged with breaking a Utah ag-gag law after she’d been seen taking video from a public road outside a slaughterhouse. The prosecutors knew they were in trouble when they learned that the woman was not operating undercover and had not stepped on private property. Just a lot of paranoia, apparently, on the part of the mayor of the city, who, as it turns out, is part owner of the slaughterhouse!
The Governor of Tennessee is right: this is not simply to do with animal protection. Laws that are designed to stop people from seeing the conditions in which their food is produced will not sit well with the American public.