Tennessee Legislature Protects Animal Abusers with Whistleblower Suppression Bill

Friday, April 19, 2013 - 11:30am
Bown cow

Guest blog by Sherry Rout, ASPCA Government Relations State Legislative Director, Southern Region

Animal abuse is atrocious and perpetrators of abuse should be stopped. Furthermore, mistreatment of farm animals can be a serious threat to our food supply. Unfortunately, the Tennessee legislature doesn’t think so—and it would rather attack the people who report animal cruelty, food safety violations and other problems in agricultural settings.

Earlier this week, S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191— legislation that protects animal abusers and preserves the chronic mistreatment of livestock and horses—passed both houses of the Tennessee legislature.   

On the Senate floor, when asked about the true intent of the legislation, the bill’s sponsor Senator Delores Gresham replied that the intent is to “stop the abuse.” In a House committee hearing, however, the House sponsor was more truthful: After listing the various industrial agriculture entities in the state that stand to benefit from this legislation, Rep. Holt stated: “The intention of this bill was to guard the economic value of these industries.” So, there we have it: The true intent of the bill, as stated by the House sponsor, is to protect industrial agriculture.

Undercover investigations are not meant to bankrupt industrial agriculture. Comprehensive investigations are intended to document chronic patterns of animal abuse that alert the public to these problems and, when the conditions are illegal, result in more convictions of abusers. This is the goal that Sen. Gresham says she is seeking. Greater transparency of conditions also protects consumers from animals that, if allowed into our food supply, could make Tennessee residents and those outside of our borders gravely ill.  S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191 puts consumers at risk of becoming ill, criminalizes whistleblowers and allows animal abusers the opportunity to claim, “this was a one-time incident,” which will likely result in a slap on the wrist and will not prevent future animal suffering.

In a 2012 poll commissioned by the ASPCA and conducted by Lake Research Partners, it was revealed that 94% 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. Additionally, 71% of adult Americans support undercover investigations to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 94%agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty.   

The infringement on First Amendment rights posed by bills similar to the one passed by the Tennessee legislature flies in the face of one of the bedrock beliefs of our country. It is my hope that Governor Bill Haslam will see this disingenuous legislation for what it is—an unconstitutional measure meant to protect industrial agriculture at the cost of consumer health, protect criminals, and criminalize those who seek to expose them. We should be protecting our food supply and applauding whistleblowers, not punishing them.   

Tennessee residents, please call Governor Haslam at (615) 741-2001 and urge him to veto this disastrous bill. You may also email the governor at [email protected].