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Punishing the Whistleblower?


Compiled by Nancy Brannon

After the Humane Society of the U.S. secretly videotaped soring practices inflicted on Tennessee Walking Horses, made the videotape public, and indictments were handed down for violations of the Horse Protection Act, Tennessee Legislators reacted with what critics call an “Ag-Gag” bill (SB 1248/HB 1191). “They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms,” the New York Times reported.

According to The Tennessean, “The measure requires anyone who photographs or videotapes abuse of an animal to give a copy to police within 48 hours. Violations are punishable by a $50 fine. The bill, part of a nationwide push by conservative groups to criminalize videotaping of animal abuse, passed the state House of Representatives with 50 votes, the minimum needed.” It passed the Senate and then headed to the Governor’s desk, where numerous groups are asking Haslam to veto the bill. As of this writing, Governor Haslam has not yet made a decision on whether to sign or veto the bill. Read the bill in full at:

The Walking Horse trainers were not the only ones secretly videotaped. “Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air.  At one of the country’s largest egg suppliers (Sparboe Farms that supplies eggs to McDonalds), a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks,” the New York Times reported. (ABC News video at: )

One undercover video showed California cows struggling to stand as they were prodded to slaughter by forklifts. In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant’s closure and criminal convictions, reported The Tennessean.

In Tennessee, the bill “to require animal abuse whistleblowers to quickly submit damning evidence to law enforcement” hit a snag in the legislature in mid-April “over questions about the true intentions of the bill,” The Tennessean reported. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville and Andy Holt, R-Dresden. It requires anyone recording images of animal abuse to submit unedited footage or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours.

But Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, expressed serious reservations about the bill. “That bill was less about preventing animal abuse, and more about preventing the filming of animal abuse,” he was quoted The Tennessean.

Last year, Gresham and Holt sponsored a bill seeking to make it a crime to apply for a job with the intent of recording video or audio that could “cause economic damage to the employer,” The Tennessean reported. That bill failed in a House subcommittee.

The reported April 19, 2013: “Federal agents, accompanied by Blount County animal control officers, raided the barn of walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon near Maryville, Tn., on Thursday morning” (April 18) and found “evidence of illegal soring and visible abuse among the 28 horses at the farm located on Tuckaleechee Pike.  Sources said the forelegs of most of the horses were wrapped after caustic substances had been applied to the animals, and a paste thought to be a mixture including cinnamon and kerosene was being utilized to achieve the so-called Big Lick. According to one source, several horses were ‘in agony’ as veterinarians palpated the animals’ irritated front legs.” Read Roy Exum’s full article at:

Comments from For the Walking Horse blog: “Wheelon is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers' Association, and he's on the Ethics Committee for the Walking Horse Trainers' Association.  According to the USDA database, Wheelon has 13 violations, the most recent ones being in 2012.”

Comments from For the Walking Horse blog: “the Ag-Gag bill passed in the TN House by one vote. The Tennessee Legislature has passed the whistleblower suppression (or “ag-gag”) bill. The whistleblower suppression bill (S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191) would criminalize activities necessary to conduct undercover investigations on farms, penalize whistleblowers, and protect animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment. There is only one way left to stop the bill from becoming state law: Governor Haslam has to veto it.” More information at: 

Curtailing cruelty to animals is a serious matter and one that deserves serious consideration – not only for the welfare of the animals, but also for the health and welfare of human society. The way in which our “food” animals are raised and marketed can have a direct impact on human health. Certainly, horse slaughter for human consumption is the most important, if not controversial, issue to horse people.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) regards “ensuring animal welfare as a human responsibility that includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.”AVMA animal welfare resources are available at:

The full articles, quoted in part above, can be read at:

More recent posts about this legislation include this editorial by the Knoxville News Sentinel: by the Chattanooga One on May 2, by The Chattanoogan: Implications of Ag Gag legislation by Brandon Keim from Wired magazine: 

The most recent post, May 2, 2013, comes from Food Safety News on the time table for Gov. Haslam to sign or veto the legislation:

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