Did You Hear the One About the Corporate Spy who Infiltrated the Nursing Home?

It’s always good to know who the bad guys are.

Imagine, for example, that you work at a nursing home. You see things that are wrong. Filthy conditions, neglect of residents, or worse, outright abuse of the elderly leading to injury. You decide to do something about it – take photos or a video perhaps – and turn them over to authorities. But before you can do that, management catches you and calls the cops, and you end up being the one arrested.

No way, right?

Amy Meyer: The Accused

Amy Meyer: The Accused

Well consider the case of Amy Meyer, a 25-year-old animal rescue worker in Salt Lake City, Utah. Concerned about deplorable conditions at the local meat packing plant, she stood outside their fenced property and took a cell phone video capturing what she believed to be a “downer” cow, i.e., sick or too weak to stand but still processed, for example, for school lunch programs.

Spotted by plant management, they called police. Seven – seven — squad cars showed up within minutes wanting to know what she was up to. They were investigating Amy pursuant to state “Ag Gag” laws. These laws make it a crime – in Utah you face 6 months jail — for employees to document abuse or to lie about their association with animal advocacy groups on job applications for farm or meat packing employment.

Though Amy was released at the scene – she was neither a plant employee nor on their property – the prosecutor’s office nonetheless later filed Ag Gag charges against her. So she had to hire a lawyer and attend several court hearings. Even though the charges were eventually dismissed, the life of an Accused is fraught with anxiety. Take a look, for example, at Amy’s encounter with police which she captured on her cell phone camera.

Why does Amy’s case matter? Because the conditions of factory farms and meat packing plants are notorious the world over for contaminating the meat with pathogens and making us sick. For example, a recent report in the Guardian of London documented a new form of MRSA present in 9 of 100 samples of pork randomly selected from 4 major grocery chains in the UK. This is consistent with research in the US that found significantly increased rates of MRSA in people who live near to or work on these factory pig farms in rural Pennsylvania.

So industry is fighting back with legislation – these Ag Gag laws – aimed at keeping prying noses out of their businesses, and locking you up in the process if necessary. And they mean it. Take a look at the “model legislation,” drafted by the business advocacy group, American Legislative Exchange Counsel, that’s being distributed to lobbyists and lawmakers across the country. It’s called The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which criminalizes, among other things, “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.” It also proposes the creation of a “terrorist registry” that would contain the names, addresses and photographs of those convicted under the proposed law.

Rep. Szoka: Spy Games

Rep. Szoka: Spy Games

Just last month, North Carolina – the second largest pork producer in the country – passed its version of an Ag Gag law, called “The Property Protection Act.” It establishes an employer’s civil right of action against any employee caught recording wrongdoing. The law calls this a – wait for it – breach of the person’s “loyalty to the employer,” and allows the employer to seek $5,000 per day in damages for every day that “violations” continue. In other words, the law is meant to bankrupt you.

So back to the nursing home story: The NC law isn’t restricted to factory farms or slaughterhouses. For example, according to the AARP, the law “applies to any business’s employees who may seek to reveal illegal and unethical practices … including nursing homes … group homes … daycare centers, and so forth.”

So let’s give the final word to the people who passed the NC law and hear how they justify it. Representative John Szoka, who sponsored the legislation, said it’s wrong to call it an Ag-Gag bill. “There are Ag-Gag bills out there, but this is not one of them,” he told VICE News. “It certainly does cover food processing,” he said, but “the aim of the bill is to stop corporate espionage — like someone stealing information from a rival business.”

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