The Utah Senate passed the state’s “Ag Gag” bill yesterday with a 24-5 vote in a move to prevent undercover videotaping of abuse at livestock and poultry facilities. Following in Iowa’s footsteps, lawmakers changed some language to penalize individuals who apply for a job at an agricultural operation under false pretenses.
According to Sen. Dave Hinkins (R), the amendments “protect legitimate employees who film safety violations.” However, the bill creates shakier ground amidst an already hostile environment for potential food integrity whistleblowers. Criminalizing industry insiders only deflects attention away from holding industrial food producers accountable.
From the Associated Press:
Amanda Hitt with the Government Accountability Project says the bill will still have a chilling effect on whistleblowers because of the threat of criminal prosecution.
Hitt says the primary goal is to prevent any pictures of agricultural operations.
The same thing goes for the legislation passed in Iowa. Any misguided claim by lawmakers stating that the Ag Gag bill doesn’t apply to legitimate industry whistleblowers are not taking into consideration the fact that workers who go through “proper channels” are routinely retaliated against.
ABC 4 News in Salt Lake City quotes FIC Director Amanda Hitt’s recent op-ed explaining how Utah’s legislation could hurt whistleblowers like the late Dr. Dean Wyatt, a former USDA veterinarian who relied on undercover video to expose inhumane handling of animals at two different slaughterhouses. Before the video was released, Dr. Wyatt reported the violations to his superiors, but was transferred and demoted for raising concerns.
This was not a rare scenario. Whistleblowers are often labeled “troublemakers” for speaking up when supervisors would rather them keep quiet. Hence the importance of undercover video footage.
The Utah House, which already passed the legislation, accepted the Senate’s changes. Now the bill only awaits the governor’s signature.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.