Late last month, N.C. Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a broadly worded bill that places the interests of his friends in the factory-farming industry far above those of our state’s residents, environment and animals.
One of several “ag-gag” bills introduced this year, SB 433 is the third bill of its kind crafted by Jackson – the previous two failed miserably. This time the senator has turned to broad, ambiguous language to mask his widely unpopular intent: to keep animal abuse and other crimes on factory farms hidden from the public.
But if SB 433 passes, a restaurant employee who snaps a photo of her manager scraping food off the floor and serving it to customers could be fined $5,000. As could a pet day care employee who records his supervisor beating a dog, a nurse who takes a picture of malpractice or anyone else who tries to expose wrongdoing in the workplace.
These people are not the bill’s primary targets, but they could fall into its sweeping crosshairs. SB 433 condemns any employee who “creates or produces an image or sound occurring within an employer’s premises and uses the recording to breach the person’s duty of loyalty to the employer.”
This means that if you take a picture of your boss committing a crime, you will be in trouble with the law, not him.
Big Ag has a dark history of warping state policies in its favor – at the expense of the less powerful.
Under former Sen. Wendell Murphy – a billionaire pork industry executive whose son is a top contributor to Jackson’s campaign finances – the General Assembly passed a slew of laws in the late 1980s and early ’90s that gave factory farmers ample tax exemptions and protections from zoning and environmental regulations. Dubbed “Murphy’s Laws” by a Pulitzer Prize-winning News & Observer exposé, these bills stripped power away from local communities, leaving people exposed to the pollution and largely unabated proliferation of massive industrial hog and poultry farms.
North Carolinians in these areas remain almost entirely unprotected, despite the fact that factory-farm owners have been cited for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act and that dozens of scientific studies have documented pollution and higher rates of illness near the facilities. After decades of struggle, environment and civil rights advocates have finally persuaded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether industrial hog operations have disproportionately harmed North Carolina minorities.
But our state’s people, lands and waters are not the only victims.
Perhaps the most abused of all are those given almost no protections under the law: the millions of animals on factory farms. North Carolina has more pigs – and far more chickens – than people, and nearly every one lives a miserable life inside filthy facilities that dot the Eastern part of the state.
Aside from routine confinement and mutilation, multiple undercover investigations have documented workers kicking, beating, stomping on, hurling and dragging sick and injured animals. A 2014 Mercy for Animals investigation at a Butterball hatchery in Raeford revealed baby turkeys ground up alive in giant macerating machines and injured turkeys left to suffer to death. A 2011 exposé of another Butterball facility laid bare cruelty so egregious it led to the first-ever felony conviction related to factory-farmed birds in U.S. history.
These crimes against rural communities and animals are exactly the type of industry-standard practices Jackson and his Big Ag buddies have tried to hide for decades. This year’s ag-gag bill fits perfectly into their legacy of abuse by attempting to shift the blame from the real criminals – the factory-farming industry – to the good people of this state who work to expose them. But we will not be played for fools.
Jamie Berger is a North Carolina native and the media campaigns coordinator for Mercy For Animals.