Ag-Gag Law Falls to Governor’s Veto in Major Farming State

North Carolina’s Pat McCrory supports the law but said it didn’t do enough to protect legitimate whistle-blowers.

Pat McCrory. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

May 29, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Thanks to a veto from Gov. Pat McCrory, North Carolina will not become the eight state to enact a law criminalizing undercover investigations at livestock facilities. Lawmakers in the state passed what critics labeled an “ag-gag” bill earlier this month, and since then pressure has been put on the governor, who is a Republican, to veto it.

“While I support the purpose of this bill, I believe it does not adequately protect or give clear guidance to honest employees who uncover criminal activity,” McCrory said in a statement. “I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.”

Similar bills have been defeated in more than 20 states in recent years, including one vetoed in 2013 by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in neighboring Tennessee. While the bills have been common in conservative state legislatures as of late—often thanks to pressure from industry lobbies and groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council—a 1992 federal law, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, already prohibits “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.”

Despite a total of five activists being charged with violating Utah’s ag-gag law since it passed in 2012, the charges were later dropped. Undercover video, for its part, has led to criminal charges in numerous instances.

In North Carolina, livestock accounts for nearly half of the state’s $78 billion farming industry, and it is second nationally in both pork and turkey production. It also ranks in the top five states for broiler chicken production.

That amounts to a whole lot of farming operations that would rather not be under the scrutiny of undercover cameras wielded by journalists, animal rights groups, or employees. But unlike the so-called farm protection laws that have been considered in other states in recent years, North Carolina’s law was not limited to agricultural operations—businesses such as day care centers and restaurants would have been covered by it too.

That led to broader opposition to the law, with not only the Humane Society of the United States campaigning against it but the American Association of Retired Persons too. AARP said the law would “create new risks for workers, older adults, families and children because it extends to all industries including nursing homes, hospitals, group homes, medical practices, charter and private schools, day care centers, and so forth.”

Recently, one of the most widely seen videos depicting horrid conditions on a livestock farm came out of North Carolina—but in that case, the farmer, Craig Watts, had invited the cameras in himself.