Tennessee Legislature Wins 'Muzzle Award' for Pushing Anti-Whistleblower Ag Gag Bill

TJCenter_muzzles_biggerLast year, Tennessee was the only state whose legislature passed an Ag Gag bill aimed at silencing whistleblowers who expose abuse on industrial farms. Ten other states introduced similar measures, but each bill ultimately died in state legislatures. FIC was part of a strong campaign against these terrible pieces of legislation, and after a groundswell of pressure in Tennessee (including from country singer Carrie Underwood), Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the state bill.

Despite the campaign's success, we're still wagging our fingers at the legislators that tried to muzzle on-the-ground truth-tellers who believe the public should know what's happening behind factory farm doors. So we were glad to see that Tennessee legislators are being officially recognized for their misdeeds in the 2014 Jefferson Muzzles.

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Oh No You Didn't! CDC Calls Out USDA for Misinterpreting Poultry Plant Study

NIOSHIs USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack so desperate to push his poultry inspection plan forward that he'll try to find evidence supporting it where there is none?

Many poultry industry whistleblowers have told FIC that the USDA's plan, including the increase of already-too-fast line speeds at poultry processing plants, is a threat to public and worker health and safety. But Secretary Vilsack won't listen to the concerns of the actual workers who will be impacted by the faster line speeds. He also won't listen to hundreds of thousands of people who've petitioned the agency to drop the plan.

What about research findings requested by the USDA itself? Turns out he's still not really listening...

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Poultry Inspection Whistleblower Coming to Temple University

phyllis_usdasmock_cropOn Thursday, April 3, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) will bring the American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability to Temple University. The Tour stop will feature whistleblower Phyllis McKelvey, who has collected more than 196,000 petition signatures to publicly raise serious safety concerns about the USDA's proposed poultry inspection model.

GAP's Tour is a dynamic campaign aimed at educating the public – particularly university students – about the phenomenon and practice of whistleblowing. This event, like all stops, features a moderated discussion with a prominent whistleblower. Details of the discussion are:

Whistleblowing for Food Safety
April 3, 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Paley Library Lecture Hall, Ground Floor
1210 Polett Walk

The event, free and open to all, is part of the Beyond the Page Public Programming Series sponsored by Temple University Libraries, which this year is focusing on food-related topics.

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Is Idaho's Ag Gag Law Constitutional? Lawsuit Takes Anti-Whistleblower Measure to Federal Court

court_iconLast month, Idaho became the first state to pass an anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill since 2012, a disappointing blow. But transparency in the state (already known for its history of anti-transparency legislation) isn't going down without a fight!

A group of organizations and journalists filed a lawsuit this week to overturn the law, which criminalizes would-be whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing on farms via undercover video. Truth-tellers could face up to a year in jail, which is double the state's maximum penalty for animal cruelty.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Idaho's law, which is clearly aimed at protecting the state's multi-billion dollar dairy industry. The industry pushed the bill after videos released by Mercy for Animals showed workers at Idaho-based Bettencourt Dairy (one of the largest dairy companies in the U.S.) stomping and sexually abusing cows in 2012.

FIC intends to submit an amicus brief in opposition to the new law.

Read the statement of a former USDA veterinarian who has witnessed abuse at Idaho dairy farms and believes "we can do better than this dangerous law."


Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


March FIC eNews: Idaho Ag Gag Becomes Law, Battle Continues in Other States

The monthly recap below appeared in FIC's March e-Newsletter (first Tuesday of the month). If you would like to receive monthly updates and other urgent alerts via email, please sign up here.

Governor Otter Lets Idaho Conceal Farm Abuses

idahoWhat do Idaho agribusinesses have to hide? A lot, apparently. Last Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the state's anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill into law, criminalizing would-be whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing on farms via undercover video.

This move came despite a concerted campaign by FIC and coalition partners (thanks to everyone who called the governor and urged him to veto the bill!). Even yogurt company Chobani came out against the legislation, stating that it "would limit transparency and make some instances of exposing mistreatment of animals in the state punishable by imprisonment."

On Friday, FIC also released a statement by a former USDA veterinarian who has witnessed abuses at Idaho dairy farms, articulating the need for undercover video to hold wrongdoers accountable. Check out his full statement here.

This Salon article quotes FIC Director Amanda Hitt, who explains the impact the law will have on not only those exposing animal welfare violations, but also environmental and workers' rights whistleblowing.

Idaho has a history of passing laws that make it easier for factory farms to escape proper oversight. While we are disappointed, FIC remains steadfast in fighting these laws. Follow us as we take on Ag Gag threats in Tennessee and Arizona. If you live in Tennessee, find the contact information for your legislators here and urge them to oppose anti-whistleblower bill HB 2258! If you live in Arizona, find your legislators here and urge them to oppose the anti-whistleblower bill HB 2587/SB 1267 even with the proposed amendments!

Transparency Battle with Big Chemical Companies

Yet another giant biotech company, BASF, has joined a lawsuit aimed at blocking Kauai County's recently enacted legislation that requires both pesticide data reporting and the implementation of buffer zones to shield schools and other public spaces from pesticide fumes. BASF joins Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics (a Dow Chemical subsidiary) in opposing what Kauai residents (and FIC) consider basic public health interests.

See FIC's investigation into whether biotech companies exerted improper influence over government officials while the legislation was being debated.

More news updates on Kauai here and here.

FIC, Poultry Workers Campaign against USDA Proposal

speeding-poultryLast Thursday, poultry workers from North Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas traveled to the nation's capital to stop USDA's proposal that would endanger workers' health and safety by speeding up production lines at poultry processing facilities throughout the U.S. During their meeting with lawmakers and administration officials, FIC and others joined together in a Twitter campaign (using the hashtag #SafetyOverSpeed) against the agency's inspection plan.

FIC also blogged about a recent Harris Poll showing that 73 percent of Americans think there should be more government oversight of the food supply. Another reason that the plan, which would remove many government inspectors and transfer their duties to private industry workers, is not in the public interest either.

eye Eye on Monsanto

What has biotechnology behemoth (and consistent violator of food integrity) Monsanto been up to recently? Here's the latest Monsanto news:

  • Food industry groups are proposing voluntary federal genetically engineered (GE) food labeling in an attempt to crush state efforts for mandatory labeling (which Monsanto continues to oppose).
  • According to a new study, Monsanto's Roundup Ready could be linked to a fatal kidney disease.
  • An ecologist who has been studying monarch butterflies for years blames Monsanto's GE corn and soybean crops for the butterfly's plummeting populations.

Idaho USDA Whistleblower on Ag Gag: "We Can Do Better than this Dangerous Law"

cow_blackwhiteMore voices have come out against Idaho's Ag Gag bill as attention on the state increases. First, Chobani has issued a statement against the anti-whistleblower legislation. Now, a USDA whistleblower from Idaho, Dr. Daryl Jacobs – who has witnessed many abuses on dairy farms in the state – has come forward to FIC with his misgivings about the law and why undercover video (which the bill aims to prevent) is needed.

As a former veterinarian for the USDA, I have seen a lot of unfortunate things come out of Idaho dairy farms. Broken bones, cows sick with cancer, and loaded with antibiotics. I understand why some farms would want to keep their abuses hidden, but a few bad apples shouldn’t get the benefit of a bad law. The reality is, some of these farms shouldn’t be in business, they’re causing a lot of suffering and ruining the reputation of good farmers. Undercover investigation is important for exposing all kinds of illegal and immoral activities, not just problems at dairy farms and whistleblowers need video to validate and substantiate what they’re saying. As a concerned veterinarian and proud Idahoan, I know something has to be done to protect these cows and keep the food supply safe, and if these undercover videos can stop cows from suffering and keep food safe, then I’m all for it! I think we can do better than this dangerous law, for animals, farmers and consumers' sake.

More on undercover video and Ag Gag's push to silence agriculture whistleblowers here.


Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


Chobani Speaks Out against Idaho's Ag Gag Bill, Urges Governor Veto

yoghurtA huge development has emerged as food integrity supporters continue to monitor Idaho's potential passing of its anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill.

As the legislation reached Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's desk for approval yesterday (after both state houses passed the controversial measure), FIC and our coalition partners decided to put pressure on yogurt company Chobani and dairy giant Darigold to step in and urge the governor to veto the bill.

After a day of tweets, messages and petitions, Chobani heard the call for transparency and responded in kind.

This morning, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya spoke out against Idaho's Ag Gag bill, stating:

A bill is up for approval in Idaho that, if passed, would limit transparency and make some instances of exposing the mistreatment of animals in the state punishable by imprisonment. This could cause the general public concern and conflicts with our views and values.

As someone who grew up on a farm, I believe deeply that the humane treatment of animals is an ethical and moral imperative and, having spent a lot of time in upstate New York and Idaho, I know hundreds of farmers feel the same.

When I founded Chobani, it was based around these core values and principles. And we chose Idaho for Chobani's second home because of its deep farming culture, sense of community and shared values.

So I am joining many folks across the country in asking Governor Otter to reconsider the bill before him."

Ulukaya should be praised for such a brave move that's the right thing for the public good. Let's hope this action by such an influential company – with operations in Idaho itself – will convince Gov. Otter to keep institutionalized secrecy out of the state!


Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

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