Federal Court Allows Case Against North Carolina Ag-Gag Law to Proceed

by Stuart McDonald

poultry industry

This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the district court’s ruling dismissing a challenge to North Carolina’s ag-gag law. This dangerous law, targeting undercover investigations, first came into effect in January of 2016 after the state legislature overrode a veto by then Governor Pat McCrory.

Ag-gag laws are designed to protect factory farms and slaughterhouses from public scrutiny over mistreatment of animals and other corporate misconduct. Undercover investigations have  revealed horrific cruelty kept hidden behind the closed doors of factory farms. Yet the law seeks to make these investigations unlawful and to allow for extraordinary monetary penalties.  

In North Carolina, companies could bring civil suits against employees, investigators, or journalists who record images or video of the atrocities committed in the agribusiness industry and share their findings with the public or the press. In fact, North Carolina’s law is so broad that it does not just shield factory farms from exposure of abusive practices, but daycare centers and nursing homes as well.

Eight groups including Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA,  the Center for Food Safety, and Food & Water Watch, represented by Public Justice, challenged the constitutionality of the law.

There’s no doubt that NC corporations will be fighting to keep the law in place. After all, they have a lot to hide. In 2015, as the law was making its way through the state legislature, a COK investigation revealed unspeakable violence occurring in a North Carolina chicken slaughterhouse. In 2014, another COK investigation revealed birds being buried alive at a major supplier of Pilgrim’s Pride, which in turn supplies companies like Costco, Kroger, and Chick-fil-A.

Currently, there are seven states with ag-gag laws, but their time is running out. In the past couple years, courts have declared three such laws unconstitutional, striking ag-gag laws in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming for violating the First Amendment.

Hopefully, North Carolina’s law will soon follow suit and the truth will no longer be hidden from the public.

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