Sunday Read: Agricultural Whistleblowers
This overview of whistleblowers’ role in protecting farm animals was sent as part of NWC’s Sunday Read series that aims to educate supporters about specific whistleblower legislative or policy initiatives. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
During NWC’s Earth Day panel we discussed the harms of wildlife trafficking and informed many about the critical role wildlife protections play in caring for our planet. Protecting whistleblowers who raise concerns about the treatment of farm animals rarely gets attention in discussions about whistleblower protections.
In this Sunday Reading, we will discuss current legislation designed to silence agricultural whistleblowers.
What is Factory Farming?
Factory farming refers to the industrialized confinement of farm animals for commercial use. A practice starting in the 1960s, agricultural experts determined that it would be more efficient to reduce available space for animals, increasing the number of animals a building can enclose.
Most popular advertising shows outdoor environments and plentiful red-barn imagery to represent where meat and animal products come from, but this is rarely the case. Based on 2017 Census of Agriculture data estimated that 99% of US farmed animals live on factory farms.
Animal meat that comes from these operations is often described using unclear language, known in the environmental sector as greenwashing, including “grass-fed”, “regenerative grazing”, and “sustainable” to name a few.
Attacks on Agricultural Whistleblowers
According to the ASPCA, a large majority of Americans support the humane treatment of farm animals. Fort this reason factory farms have taken steps to conceal their practices rather than raise their standards. Particularly, the widespread implementation of “Ag-Gag” laws allow farms to hide inhumane practices by silencing whistleblowers who try to reveal animal abuse and misconduct.
Since the 1990s, there have been many efforts by animal protection organizations to uncover malpractice in the agricultural industry, trying to show the public possible abuse of farmed animals. This practice has become extremely dangerous for whistleblowers due to Ag-Gag laws, which vary at the state level.
Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota all have modern-day Ag-Gag laws, the majority of which describe criminal penalties for attempting to uncover misconduct on factory farms. Some of the most limiting provisions include:
· Alabama — It is illegal to “obtain access” to a farming facility “by false pretenses”
· Arkansas — It is illegal to access commercial property and record data that would financially damage the property owner
· Missouri — Since 2021, it has been illegal to “inspect” animal facilities or testify on conditions or events seen on the grounds during criminal prosecutions
· North Dakota — For over 30 years today, it has been illegal to “use or attempt to use a camera, video recorder, or other video or audio recording equipment”
These laws are clearly designed to silence whistleblowers who can come forward with evidence about violations of laws designed to protect food standards, public health, and ensure the humane treatment of animals.
Agricultural Whistleblowers Need Better Support
While many states have struck down Ag-Gag laws as unconstitutional, many states continue to criminalize agricultural whistleblowers. These workers need protection and do not have federal guidelines or enforcement to protect their disclosures.
The USDA whistleblower program supports government employees and contractors but does not provide a system for private-sector employees to speak up about malpractice in their workplace.
It is especially difficult for agricultural workers to come forward with information due to the lack of clarity in the reporting system. Laws can vary from state to state and it is critical that whistleblowers seek legal counsel from an experienced whistleblower attorney. Industrial farming whistleblower are highly encouraged to read any “tip” submission or “disclosure” form closely and only submit information using resources that can gaurentee the protections of attorny client privilege.
NWC’s intake form, clearly states that “[a]ll communications with the Fund are considered confidential under the Attorney-Client Privilege,” potential whistleblowers are encouraged to look for similar language before submitting information through any website or tipline. If you believe you have information related to animal abuse, please use the NWC intake form.
What can You Do?
NWC demonstrates its commitment to animals by being a participating partner in the Wildlife Anti-Trafficking Alliance and partnering with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Join us in this commitment and pledge your support for wildlife whistleblowers today. Please also consider donating to support NWC’s continuing mission to support and advocate for wildlife and climate whistleblowers.
This story was researched and drafted by NWC Intern, Shawn Robbins, a Sophomore double major in Economics and Sociology at University of California, Irvine.