NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is hailing today's decision by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto Senate Bill (SB) 1248/House Bill (HB) 1191 as a victory for animal welfare and consumer safety. If signed into law, this dangerous anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation would have suppressed whistleblowers and protected animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment.
"SB 1248/HB 1191 would have had disastrous results for Tennessee's animals by providing protections for those who would harm them," said Sherry Rout, state legislative director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Southern region, and Tennessee resident. "We thank Governor Haslam for listening to the citizens of Tennessee and preventing this harmful and unnecessary bill from becoming law."
This legislation would have suppressed whistleblower investigations on farms, which have been extremely successful in documenting the inhumane treatment of animals, uncovering crucial health and welfare information, and spurring many groundbreaking reforms. If this bill had become law, these types of investigations—such as the one last year that revealed the gruesome practice of beating and soring Tennessee Walking Horses—would have remained hidden from the public.
"This bill would have placed a veil over animal welfare and food safety in the state and suppressed whistleblowers from exposing potential harms," added Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. "We hope the action taken today by Governor Haslam will encourage industry to directs its energy toward achieving accountability for those who are inflicting abuse on animals and putting consumers at risk, rather than coming up with creative ways to cover up these problems."
SB 1248 was introduced in February by Senator Dolores Gresham. A companion bill in the House, HB 1191 sponsored by Representative Andy Holt, was also introduced in February. Last week, Tennessee's Attorney General called the legislation "constitutionally suspect under the First Amendment on three grounds," and also stated that the bill could violate a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In a 2012 nationwide poll commissioned by the ASPCA, it was revealed that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent oppose making such efforts illegal. Additionally, 94 percent of Americans feel that it is important to have measures in place to ensure that food coming from farm animals is safe for people to eat, and 94 percent agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty.
In addition to Tennessee, anti-whistleblower/ag-gag legislation has been introduced this year in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming. No bills have been successful. The ASPCA is working to oppose these bills in all the states where they have been proposed. In addition, a multitude of national groups representing a wide array of public interests have joined animal welfare organizations in opposing this type of legislation.