Second, documenting longer-form investigations provides law enforcement with a larger body of evidence to facilitate prosecution than a report of a single isolated incident. And law enforcement apparently needs all the help and encouragement it can get, as reports of animal cruelty rarely result in prosecution and conviction. According to a report issued by the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research, of the 1,369 animal cruelty cases brought in that state between 2004 and 2007, only 182 resulted in conviction. In most cases, the prosecutor decided not to prosecute.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, mandatory reporting laws like those proposed in Nebraska and New Hampshire are intended to, and will in fact, make performing and documenting these valuable longer-form investigations impossible. That’s because, absent meaningful whistleblower protections for the workers required to report violations, which these bills don’t provide, mandatory reporting requirements will make it easy for the company to isolate those who speak up and retaliate against them. If workers are forced to come forward with such evidence in a matter of hours, it eliminates the possibility of them working with outside organizations to both shield their identity and publicize the wrongdoing correctly.
In its 35 years of service, the Government Accountability Project has seen the scenario of corporations smearing the messenger play out too many times to count. FIC Counsel Jeff Gulley states:
Once an employer learns that one of its employees has reported a violation, whether through a public records request or a request for more information by the investigating agency, its knee-jerk reaction is often to immediately isolate or terminate the employee to prevent any further reports. Rarely is an employer’s first response to help law enforcement and take steps to address the underlying misconduct, particularly where the misconduct is profitable. Thus in addition to placing an unfair burden on the worker that witnesses animal abuse, these laws will in fact make it more difficult to uncover and prosecute animal cruelty.
To effectively protect the well being of the animals and the workers, such laws must at minimum include best-practice whistleblower protections. Without rights against retaliation when they disclose inhumane handling and other violations, would-be truth-tellers in the meat and poultry industry have no incentive to follow mandatory reporting laws. Requiring employees to report abuse right away is simply a way for the industry to weed out the “snitches” and prevent the acts of abuse, etc. from becoming public information.
As Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary put it in the Huffington Post … “New Laws, Same Effect.” Ag Gag bills, in all their forms, strictly aim to suppress whistleblowers. Knowing this, FIC has been working to counter the industry’s misleading arguments and reveal the importance of empowering honest insiders, not gagging them.