Ag-gag v. Whistleblowing


On February 8, 2013, Amy Meyer went to the Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City, Utah to see where her meat comes from. She peeked through the barbed wire fence and saw a sick cow being treated like rubble. She pulled out her smartphone and began filming the scene. For her good intentions, Meyer was charged with violating Utah's ag-gag law.

What is an ag-gag bill?

Ag-gag bills are laws enacted to stop undercover investigators from penetrating factory farms with the goal of reporting animal abuse and other illegal behavior. Existing ag-gag laws generally:

  • Prohibit taking photos or videos of factory farms without permission
  • Criminalize investigators who obtain work at a factory farm
  • Require mandatory reporting within extremely short time periods so that no pattern of abuse can be recorded 

In addition to Utah, Kansas, Montana, Iowa and Missouri have ag-gag laws. In May, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the state's ag-gag bill. State representatives in California, New York and Minnesota repealed their ag-gag bills shortly after introducing them. 

Ag-gag bills take the air out of whistleblowers

Ag-gag bills essentially criminalize whistleblowing on factory farms and meat packing plants, keeping interested Americans from learning about how their meat is processed. Just like whistleblowing has exposed securities and accounting fraud, it has had an equally important role in revealing unsafe working conditions, animal abuse and environmental violations.

A whistleblower story

Jim Schrier worked as United States Department of Agriculture meat inspector for 29 years. Recently, he visited the Tyson Foods slaughter facility in Iowa where he reported clear humane handling violations. Schrier received an anger-filled response from his supervisor. One week later, Schrier was reassigned to another state. Now, he faces losing his livelihood because of whistleblowing.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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