Advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit in an Arkansas federal court challenging the state’s 2017 ag-gag law, which prohibits undercover investigations exposing abuses at factory farms and other businesses in the state. The suit argues that the law violates the First Amendment by restricting free speech.
Filed by Animal Legal Defense Fund, Public Justice, Animal Equality, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Food Chain Workers Alliance, the suit is against state representative DeAnn Vaught and her husband, who own a pig farm, and Peco Foods, an Alabama-based poultry company with facilities in Arkansas. This is the first ag-gag case in which private entities are the defendants.
Representative Vaught sponsored the law, which allows agricultural businesses to sue whistleblowers who expose cruelty at their farms and bans undercover investigations into nearly all private entities, including nursing homes and day-care centers. Whistleblowers could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars. Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells stated:
Undercover investigations are a valuable tool in exposing the cruel conditions for animals in factory farms—and federal courts have already ruled they are protected under the First Amendment. Transparency is critical for protecting animals, workers, food safety and the environment. Moreover, it’s a waste of public money for states to pass and defend these laws.
This is the eighth lawsuit challenging ag-gag laws, with courts striking down similar laws in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Iowa, giving hope to animal activists. Public Justice senior attorney David Muraskin said, “The First Amendment is still on our side, and we expect this law to fall as well.”
Undercover investigations are crucial for getting the truth about factory farming to the public, and these laws are designed to make whistleblowing—to expose abusive and unhygienic conditions for animals, workers, or both—even riskier. The good news is that ag-gag laws are very unpopular, and more than 60 organizations across the country oppose them and have banded together to defend food safety, consumer protection, and free speech.
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