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August 12, 2021

COURT RULES ANIMAL PROTECTION GROUPS CAN CHALLENGE ARKANSAS’ AG-GAG LAW

As its nickname implies, the current Arkansas statute was designed to “gag” would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists by punishing them for investigating what goes on inside factory farms and slaughterhouses.

On Monday, August 9, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a ruling reinstating a lawsuit seeking to strike down an Arkansas law which outlaws undercover investigations of factory farms and other private businesses. The case, which was brought by Animal Equality along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity and Food Chain Workers Alliance, challenges the Arkansas law on First Amendment grounds, claiming it unconstitutionally restricts free speech. Given the statute’s anti-whistleblower purpose, the plaintiffs in the case have identified it as an “Ag-Gag” law.

Enacted in 2017, the Arkansas statute is far-reaching and, as its Ag-Gag nickname implies, was designed to “gag” would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists by punishing them for investigating what goes on at animal agriculture operations. The law empowers businesses to sue whistleblowers for thousands of dollars just for exposing the truth – a truth that the animal agriculture industry often wants to keep hidden from the public. 

Ag-Gag laws started popping up around the country in recent years in response to undercover investigations such as those conducted by Animal Equality. The goal of these unconstitutional laws is to prevent the public from learning about animal cruelty and other devastation caused by the industrial agriculture industry, such as environmental pollution. Yet the Arkansas Ag-Gag law goes even further by banning undercover investigations of non-agricultural entities as well, including nursing homes and daycare centers.

Animal Equality celebrates the appellate court’s ruling allowing the case to proceed. In reversing the lower court’s dismissal of the case, the Eighth Circuit held that animal advocates can prospectively challenge Ag-Gag laws that enable factory farms and private businesses to sue whistleblowers investigating corporate abuses.

“We are pleased the court has recognized that the Arkansas Ag-Gag law actively harms animal advocates’ First Amendment rights,” said Sarah Hanneken, Legal Advocacy Counsel for the plaintiff Animal Equality. “We look forward to continuing to litigate the case and ultimately striking down the law, so that undercover investigators and other workers in the State of Arkansas can freely exercise their constitutional right to blow the whistle on abusive corporate practices.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, seeking declaratory judgement that the Ag-Gag law is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. When the district court dismissed the lawsuit, the plaintiffs appealed. The Eighth Circuit’s decision to reverse the lower court’s dismissal is an important step toward ensuring the public’s ability to investigate and publicize corporate abuses committed by Arkansas businesses. Without such investigations, it is nearly impossible to hold businesses such as factory farms and slaughterhouses accountable. Doing so is especially important when – as in the animal agriculture industry – the well-being of animals, workers, and other vulnerable groups are at stake.

Animal Equality thanks Public Justice for its representation in this case.

ABOUT ANIMAL EQUALITY

Animal Equality is an international organization working with society, governments, and companies to end cruelty to farmed animals. Animal Equality has offices and corporate outreach teams in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and India who can readily assist stakeholders in their animal welfare goals.

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