For Immediate Release, March 12, 2020

Contact:

Hannah Connor, (202) 681-1676, hconnor@biologicaldiversity.org

Appeal Challenges Arkansas’ Unconstitutional ‘Ag-Gag’ Law

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— Conservation and animal-welfare groups filed an appeal today challenging Arkansas' far-reaching “Ag-Gag” law.

The law unconstitutionally silences whistleblowers and prohibits undercover investigations that expose animal cruelty, pollution and other abuses at factory farms and other businesses throughout the state.

Today’s appeal was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis. It follows a lower court’s February dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the Arkansas law as violating the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts have ruled that Ag-Gag laws in Iowa, Idaho, Utah, Kansas and Wyoming are unconstitutional on free-speech grounds.

“Four other states' Ag-Gag laws have been struck down by federal courts for violating the First Amendment,” said Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director. “We are confident we will prevail and prevent Arkansas from keeping citizens and consumers in the dark about the harms of factory farms."

The plaintiffs — the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, the Center for Biological Diversity and Food Chain Workers Alliance — are represented by the Public Justice Food Project and in-house attorneys for the organizations bringing the lawsuit.

“The decision we are appealing today gets a number of things wrong about why the plaintiffs in this case have standing to challenge this unconstitutional law, and acknowledges that it’s at odds with other case law,” said David Muraskin of Public Justice’s Food Project, lead counsel in the suit. “The court erred in suggesting that the plaintiffs’ speech hasn’t been chilled given that the state passed a law to punish them for speaking out. Rep. Vaught expressly pushed the passage of this law to protect herself and her factory farm. We want the public to be able to know what she and other industrial ag operators across Arkansas are hiding.”

As the name suggests, Ag-Gag laws seek to “gag” would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists by punishing them for recording footage of what goes on in animal agriculture. The laws were originally designed to prevent the public from learning about animal cruelty, but also shield from the public from key information about environmental pollution.

“Animal cruelty and environmental crimes are more likely to occur when transparency is denied and whistleblowers are silenced,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Industrial animal facilities generate massive amounts of pathogens, feces, heavy metals and other contaminants. Amid our escalating extinction crisis, the public has a right to know if these pollutants are making their way into waterways and the habitats needed by endangered animals to survive.”

Arkansas' law, enacted in 2017, is especially expansive. Not only does it allow agricultural businesses to sue whistleblowers who expose the cruel conditions animals endure in factory farms, but it also bans undercover investigations of virtually all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. Whistleblowers can be liable for tens of thousands of dollars in penalties for exposing the truth.

The public relies on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced.

Undercover investigations are therefore the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations. Investigations also reveal health and worker-safety violations. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are major polluters, so undercover investigations are important for learning about violations of environmental laws as well.

“Every investigation we conduct provides new, critical insights into the realities of animal agriculture — an industry rife with issues of public concern,” said Sarah Hanneken, an attorney with Animal Equality. “Without these insights, we are severely limited in our ability to effectively advocate for the interests of vulnerable individuals behind opaque industry walls.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.