O-Pinion

N.C.’s boneheaded ‘ag-gag’ law protects corporate wrongdoing from exposure

Video from a Mercy for Animals investigation showed abuses at a N.C. poultry plant.
Video from a Mercy for Animals investigation showed abuses at a N.C. poultry plant. Courtesy Mercy for Animals

When an animal rights group videotaped a worker at one of its suppliers kicking, stomping and throwing chickens, the Perdue poultry company thanked the activists for uncovering what it called “clear animal abuse.”

The worker, Danny Miranda, pleaded guilty Monday in Richmond County to three counts of criminal animal cruelty. Too bad for him he didn’t commit his misdeeds after Jan. 1. That’s when a new state law took effect that would have made such an exposé a much riskier proposition. It would have allowed the supplier to quietly dismiss Miranda without criminal prosecution, then go to civil court to sue the undercover animal activist who videotaped the crimes.

Net effect: no animal rights exposé, no messy public relations problem for the poultry industry.

According to those running our General Assembly, this is progress. Whistle blowers can now be sued for secretly taking pictures in the workplace or exposing trade secrets. Be they fed-up longtime employees or social activists who hire on temporarily to sniff out abuses, all are now legally at risk if they try to get wrongdoing on tape.

Among a raft of bone-headed legislation passed by the state’s Republican leadership last year, this so-called “ag-gag” law ranks among the worst. When a Democratic lawmaker tried to amend the bill to protect employees whose recordings show illegal activity, even that got blocked.

To his credit, Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, but was overridden by the legislature.

The law doesn’t just affect the poultry industry. It applies to all N.C. businesses, including nursing homes, day care centers and other vital institutions where the public interest is greatly served by undercover exposés of wrongdoing.

Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, the activist group that conducted the Perdue investigation, said one of its activists got hired on at several Perdue suppliers to document the abuses. Such exposés are now in peril, thanks to what she describes as “a corrupt legislature” bowing to pressure from corporations. She said everything from North Carolina’s food safety to worker safety to the welfare of children and elders has been put at greater risk.

That, she added, is why the group is seeking “every way possible” to overturn the law, including potential court challenges.

It’s good to know someone’s trying to look out for the welfare of North Carolina’s farm animals and citizens. In this case, the legislature certainly wasn’t. Eric Frazier

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