North Carolina Ag-Gag

North Carolina Ag-Gag

FarmSTAND (formerly the Food Project at Public Justice) is lead counsel on behalf of a coalition of public interest groups in a constitutional challenge to North Carolina’s “Anti-Sunshine” law—a statute that, like Ag-Gag laws, allows employers and property owners to sue undercover investigators who wish to blow the whistle on unethical or illegal activities in the workplace. In a win for transparency in the food system, the coalition was successful in striking down the law.

Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.  The law’s text and legislative history confirm that the statute’s primary objective is to stop undercover investigations by what the legislature termed “private special-interest organizations,” particularly those focused on animal agriculture and food health and safety.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District Of North Carolina struck down two of the law’s provisions — those that prevented gathering and release of recordings of illegal and unethical activities at the workplace. The court also protected undercover investigations of animal facilities and factory farms from two other provisions that would have prevented gathering information in other ways. 

After a federal judge for the Middle District of North Carolina struck down the law, the state appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of our clients, affirming their undercover investigations and whistleblowing are protected by the Constitution.

The plaintiffs group consists of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animal Legal Defense FundCenter for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Farm Sanctuary, Farm Forward, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The New York Times published an editorial endorsing the challenge. 

To learn more about our work on ag-gag laws in other states, see our page on Ag-Gag Litigation.

Trial Briefs

Appellate Briefs


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