NC Legislators Sneak in "Ag Gag" Bill as Butterball Employee Pleads Guilty to Animal Cruelty

A three-week investigation at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina by an animal welfare activist with a hidden camera documented workers beating birds with metal bars, stomping and kicking them, and throwing them violently into metal cages by their necks (video below). Mercy for Animals, the non-profit organization responsible for the investigation, turned the footage over to prosecutors in December 2011, and the police raided the facility. Five workers were charged with criminal animal cruelty, and a top-level Department of Agriculture official was convicted for obstruction of justice in February 2012.

How did North Carolina state Senators Brent Jackson, Wesley Meredith, and Jim Davis respond to the scandal? On April 2, 2013, the same day that the fifth Butterball employee pled guilty, they introduced a bill called the "Commerce Protection Act." It didn't mention animal agriculture, so it might have flown underneath the radar. But as independent journalist Will Potter pointed out, the bill is yet another "ag gag" bill, with similar language and provisions to at least ten others moving across the country in 2013.

Specifically, the bill would ban photography at a place of employment, make it a crime for anyone to make false statements on a job application (such as when an animal welfare activist applies for a job at an agribusiness operation for the purposes of an investigation), and make it mandatory to turn any recording over to authorities within 24 hours. Many of the investigations targeted take weeks to document a pattern of abuse, including the North Carolina Butterball investigation -- these investigations would be made illegal.

(Source: Mercy for Animals)As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, "ag gag" bills have passed in Iowa, Utah, and Missouri; the first similar bill was introduced in Florida in 2011. Since then, similar bills have been introduced in a handful of states each year since. The larger number of bills introduced just in the first several months of 2013 prompted Grist to ask if 2013 will be "the year of ag-gag bills."

In the last few weeks, the mainstream media have taken note. Two days after CMD's coverage traced the bills back to their "ideological ancestor" -- an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill called the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" -- the Associated Press took up the story. The AP article quoted ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling: "At the end of the day it's about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy," he said. "You wouldn't want me coming into your home with a hidden camera." On April 7, ALEC and ag-gag were featured in a rare spot on the front page of the New York Times.

The investigations undertaken over the years by citizen journalists and animal welfare advocates have helped to uncover inhumane farming practices and serious food safety violations. Banning these investigations will likely generate even more serious scandals.

For more information on each of the "ag gag" bills introduced since 2011 -- and their historical predecessors in ALEC and elsewhere -- please see CMD's SourceWatch resource here.


I'll never buy a Butterball turkey AGAIN! I can't believe people still do this to animals!

Promotion of the idea of a business as deserving the same rights to privacy as a home can be seen as consistent with the Supreme Court's controversial decision that corporations have the same rights to free speech as individuals. What seems inconsistent is the notion (as in the ag-gag proposals) that a business or a corporation should be exempt from the laws that try to regulate excesses of individuals that negatively effect their fellow citizens, the environment, and the nation. Businesses and corporations are not sacrosanct refuges like families or homes. They invite public patronage and depend on public endorsement by which they hope to benefit. Their goal is to not be defrauded of their profits or their reputations. Another of their goals, however, seems to be that I should be defrauded of my right to know about any lawlessness and failures of ethics/morality that would help me to exercise my right to choose not to share their guilt or further empower them by doing business with them or my right to choose to prosecute them for illegal practices. Any law that thwarts investigation of wrongdoing is unworthy of a country with our history; any honest exposure of wrongdoing in information collected by any method that our domestic government openly finds acceptable practice for itself should be applauded. I, for one am grateful. With regard to cruel slaughterhouse practices, I say that Butterball is not the first known offender, that slaughter in general tends to dull feeling for animals' wellbeing, that vigilance and surveillance are important (even if done stealthily), that transparency should be a policy rather than an oversight, that there should be constant efforts to mimimize the distress of the animals that are killed for our benefit. Someone once said something to the effect that man is the only animal who can remain on friendly terms with the animals he intends to eat until he eats them. The emphasis is on huMANity here. And if we can't manage it, maybe we should be vegetarian!

I can't believe there's no petition to sign here!!!! What are you waiting for???

What are YOU waiting for? < Submitted by Auntieg (not verified) on April 10, 2013 - 6:48pm. < I can't believe there's no petition to sign here!!!! What are you waiting for???

I would sign a petition. and I think this nc ag gag bill needs to be shut down. it is ridiculous. criminals should be exploited and I don't know why government does NOT think this needs to be addressed unless they are just too damn lazy to get justice for law UN-abiding citizens.

This is disgusting! I'll never buy Butterball again. Ever. Will be sharing this with everyone I know to make sure they don't either. Now, how do we make sure NC legislators don't get re-elected?

Help stop Ag Gag laws that are destroying consumer's ability to know what really goes into making their food. You can do so by signing and spreading the word about this petition on the White House website that's picking up steam . Help be a part of the solution: sign and spread!

I've watched this Video and this is the most unsettling thing I've ever seen! I know the need to be killed to eat them, but what type of people can be so vindictive? If a person can do that to a turkey they can do that to anything including a human. I'm surely appalled at the site of these poor birds. I am going to pass this along to everyone I know. I will never buy anything made from butterball again, and I know once my family and friends see this they will not buy butterball either!!!!!!!

Every animal has the right to live, 2 if these animals are being held for the foodindustry, they have the right to be left alone and to be as free and secure as long as they live, they also didn't asko to be someones luch of fastfood, and they don't deserve to be more torchered and abused !