Mercy For Animals, ASPCA Ask Haslam To Veto Ag-Gag Bill

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mercy For Animals is calling on Governor Haslam to veto SB 1248/HB 1191.  

Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy For Animals, said "These bills are transparent attempts by agribusiness interests to sweep evidence of animal cruelty under the rug and shield animal abusers from public scrutiny. They are ag-gag bills specifically designed to silence whistleblowers and keep the people of Tennessee in the dark about where their food comes from.

"The purpose of these bills is to prevent whistleblowers from documenting and exposing the full extent of animal abuse and other criminal activity in factory farms and slaughterhouses. The practical effects of these bills would be to allow factory farms to scapegoat low-level employees for cruel and inhumane practices that start at the top, while shielding managers and corporate executives from criminal liability. 

"If enacted, these bills will have far-reaching and devastating consequences, such as concealing animal abuse, food safety risks, workers’ rights violations, and other serious crimes that occur behind the closed doors of Tennessee’s factory farms. 

"Although the Tennessee legislature has clearly bowed to the pressure of corporate factory farming interests and failed the citizens of this state, we are urging Governor Haslam to veto this dangerous and un-American legislation and send a clear message that the state of Tennessee puts the interests of its citizens ahead of corporate profits." 

Mercy For Animals sent the following letter to Governor Haslam Friday morning: 

April 19, 2013 

Governor Bill Haslam
1st Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243
 
Dear Governor Haslam: 

I am writing to you on behalf of Mercy For Animals, a national, non-profit animal protection organization, to urge you to veto companion bills SB 1248 and HB 1191. 

SB 1248 and HB 1191 are transparent attempts by agribusiness interests to sweep evidence of animal cruelty under the rug and shield animal abusers from public scrutiny. They are “ag-gag” bills specifically designed to silence whistleblowers and keep the people of Tennessee in the dark about where their food comes from. 

Under the pretext of mandatory reporting, these bills hinder the ability of whistleblowers to fully document and expose instances of criminal animal abuse, food safety risks, workers’ rights violations, and other serious crimes that occur behind the closed doors of Tennessee’s factory farms. Yet, other mandatory reporting laws in Tennessee are strikingly different from these bills, in that they do not cherry-pick the instances of criminal activity that should and should not be reported, or selectively require one class of people to report crimes at the exclusion of all others. 

The true intent of these bills is not difficult to ascertain. SB 1248 and HB 1191 only cover livestock. If these bills were truly meant to help prosecute animal abusers, why not include cruelty to cats, dogs, and other animals? In fact, SB 1248 and HB 1191 are not concerned with reporting animal abuse at all, but with protecting agribusiness from public scrutiny. 

Similarly, SB 1248 and HB 1191 do not require individuals who witness animal abuse to report it; they only require individuals who record animal abuse to report it. By singling out whistleblowers who have the opportunity and the wherewithal to take photographic or video evidence of crimes at factory farms, these bills are designed to intimidate citizens who wish to speak out against animal cruelty. 

The practical effects of these bills would be to allow factory farms to scapegoat low-level employees for cruel and inhumane practices that start at the top while shielding managers and corporate executives from criminal liability. 

Investigations by Mercy For Animals and other animal protection groups routinely lead to the arrests and criminal convictions of owners and managers of agricultural facilities. For example, MFA’s investigation at Quality Egg of New England prompted the Maine Department of Agriculture and state police to raid the facility on grounds of cruelty to animals. As part of a landmark civil settlement, the mega-farm pleaded guilty to 10 counts of cruelty to animals and agreed to pay over $130,000 in fines and restitution. 

Last year, an MFA investigator documented appalling abuse and neglect at a Butterball facility in Hoke County, North Carolina. Workers were caught on video violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their wings and necks, slamming them into transport crates, and leaving turkeys to suffer from serious untreated injuries and infections. MFA promptly notified local law enforcement and a raid of the facility by the Hoke County sheriff’s department resulted in the arrest and conviction of five Butterball employees, as well as a top-level agriculture department employee. 

Our investigation into the E6 Cattle Company in Texas, where workers were caught using pickaxes to bludgeon calves to death, gathered sufficient evidence for law enforcement to arrest and convict the owner of the facility for cruelty to animals. These are but a few examples. MFA would not have been able to gather sufficient evidence to hold any of these individuals accountable for their crimes if a bill like SB 1248 and HB 1191 were in effect. 

A recent poll conducted by an independent third party documented that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigations by animal protection groups to expose farmed animal abuse, and the overwhelming majority of those people oppose making such investigations illegal. 

Tennessee’s lawmakers should be working to strengthen the existing animal cruelty laws and expanding the punishments for animal abuse, not criminalizing the people who dare to expose it. Although the Tennessee legislature has clearly bowed to the pressure of corporate factory farming interests and failed the citizens of this state, you have the opportunity to veto this dangerous and un-American legislation and send a clear message that the state of Tennessee puts the interests of its citizens ahead of corporate profits. 

On behalf of our members and supporters in Tennessee and nationwide, we urge you to veto SB 1248 and HB 1191. 

Sincerely,
Vandhana Bala
General Counsel
Phone: (312) 909-6051
E-mail: VandhanaB@MercyForAnimals.org 

In response to the Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1248/House Bill (HB) 1191 Wednesday, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is urging Governor Bill Haslam to veto the "dangerous anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation." SB 1248/HB 1191 is aimed at suppressing whistleblowers and protecting animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment, ASPCA officials said. 
 
“The ASPCA urges Governor Haslam to prevent this harmful and unnecessary bill from becoming law,” said Sherry Rout, state legislative director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Southern region, and Tennessee resident. “Tennesseans have a right to know about how animals in the state are treated and potential dangers regarding the production of our food supply.”   

SB 1248/HB 1191 would suppress whistleblower investigations on farms, which have been successful in documenting the inhumane treatment of animals, uncovering health and welfare information, and spurring many groundbreaking reforms, ASPCA officials said. Should this bill become law, these types of investigations—such as the one last year that revealed the practice of beating and soring Tennessee Walking Horses—would remain hidden from the public. The video that was taken in this case led to a federal grand jury indictment of Jackie McConnell, a former trainer. McConnell was subsequently arraigned last month on 22 counts of animal abuse. 

“The bill suggests that Tennessee’s agricultural industry had something to hide,” added Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. “We need additional transparency, not less, when it comes to animal welfare and food safety. Where there are problems, industry should direct its energy toward resolving them, not covering them.”   

SB 1248 was introduced in February by Senator Dolores Gresham, who represents the district where Jackie McConnell’s barn was located. A companion bill in the House, HB 1191 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt, was also introduced in February.    

In addition to Tennessee, anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation has been introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming. No bills have been successful. The ASPCA is working to oppose these bills in all the states where they have been proposed. For more information on this issue, visit www.aspca.org/Fight-Animal-Cruelty/Advocacy-Center/ag-gag.


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