Undercover Investigations Of Animal Cruelty Could Become A Crime

Apr 22, 2015

Animal rights activists and journalists would be prohibited from going undercover into private businesses and secretly taking pictures and recordings of illegal activity, under a bill approved by a North Carolina legislative panel on Tuesday.

A North Carolina House judiciary committee passed the bill, called the Property Protection Act, with sponsors saying they want to prevent people from entering businesses under false pretenses. Advocacy groups objected to the measure, arguing it would prevent investigations that could expose illegal activity at livestock farms and meat processing factories.

Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), a lead sponsor of the bill, said in the hearing Tuesday that the proposal would not target a long-standing employee who stumbles upon a wrongdoing at his or her place of employment, but rather protect a business from hiring an applicant who’s actually working for someone else.

"It's a fiction because he's working for somebody else working on a new story or something else," Szoka told WRAL.com.

The proposal, if it becomes law, would make North Carolina at least the eighth state to ban some types of recordings of illegal activity in businesses. It would prevent investigations from advocacy groups that look for systemic animal abuses at farms or factories, said Chloe Waterman, a lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

For example, in 2011, employees of the group Mercy for Animals made secret recordings at a Butterball facility in Hoke County, resulting in the animal cruelty conviction of five employees for kicking and beating live birds.

"This bill is intended to silence whistleblowers who are exposing often illegal and unethical activities on agricultural operations," Waterman said.

The bill was sent to the full chamber for consideration; top Senate Republicans have filed a similar bill.