Federal Court Upholds Unconstitutionality of North Carolina Ag-Gag Law as Applied to PETA

Published by Chloe Woodward.

Huge news! The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just ruled in favor of PETA and our coalition partners, striking down North Carolina’s Property Protection Act as applied to PETA. Given how vital undercover investigations are to our work to reveal and end the suffering of pigs, chickens, cows, and other farmed animals, this is a major victory for investigators and whistleblowers.

The act, otherwise known as the “Anti-Sunshine Law,” was a pernicious law that protected property in name alone—it was designed to stifle and punish the free speech of whistleblowers who try to investigate agricultural businesses. Many ag-gag laws like the Anti-Sunshine Law have been established over the past few decades to create a chilling effect on investigators, but they only serve to keep Americans from knowing vital information about how their food is produced.

This ruling upheld that undercover investigative work is protected by the First Amendment and supports much-needed accountability across the agriculture industry in North Carolina. It follows a wave of successful ag-gag challenges, and we hope it will help lead to more being struck down across the nation.


North Carolina is home to several agricultural businesses that supply much of the U.S. These include Smithfield’s Tar Heel facility—the world’s largest pig slaughterhouse—where government investigators found appalling conditions in 2022. If public regulators operating under full transparency were able to find such horrors while employees were doubtless on their best behavior, just imagine what undercover investigators might find there and at similar operations.

We’re thrilled about this affirmation of free speech. If knowing what goes on behind closed doors in North Carolina’s agricultural industry really would harm its profits—and we have a hunch it might, given the documented human toll of factory farms in the state—then it better clean up its act.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind