WOOSTER, Ohio — At least two states are in the process of enacting legislation that will prevent animal rights activists from producing videos and taking pictures on private farms without the owner’s consent.
In response to videos and images they feel are misleading and purposefully against livestock farming, state legislators in Iowa and Florida are considering ways to charge would-be perpetrators with misdemeanors and felonies.
One measure passed the Iowa House March 17 with a vote of 66 in favor, and 27 against. The bill — Senate File 431 — passed the Iowa Senate Agriculture committee with unanimous approval. A vote by the full senate is pending.
In Florida, Senate Bill 1246 seeks to make it a first degree misdemeanor to “enter onto a farm or other property where legal agricultural operations are being conducted and produce audio or video records without the written consent of the owner or an authorized representative.” U.S. Dept. of Agriculture officials and law enforcement are excluded.
It passed the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously on March 21.
Animal rights organizations say farmers must have something to hide if they want to ban such videos and audio. But farm leaders in those states say it’s not so.
“We absolutely believe that animals ought to be given the best care possible,” said Tom Shipley, director of Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “We have nothing to hide, but we don’t believe that people ought to be recording information they can edit for their own political agenda.”
Shipley is part of a host of supporters who say the bill ensures animal abuse gets reported to the farm owner or supervisor promptly — not retained for a campaign video or a publicized media event.
“If they’re (activists) concern is really with the animals versus fundraising and to disparage agriculture, why aren’t they coming forward immediately with these things,” asks Kevin Vinchattle, Iowa Poultry Association CEO.
Employees often sign a document that they will report abuse to the farm owner or supervisor in a timely manner — but Shipley and Vinchattle say it’s sometimes several weeks or months later that the report is made.
“We want it reported immediately and not for a political agenda,” Shipley said.
The Iowa bill was sponsored by state Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden. She said the bill adds to the safety and well-being of farm animals because it holds employees accountable.
Under the proposed law, people can be prosecuted for lying to gain access to the farm, causing damage to its animals or property, or participating in any abuse to animals.
Animal rights organizations rely on secretly recorded videos to inform the public of what they say is abuse on America’s factory farms. They say the bills are an attempt to silence whistleblowers and vow to fight for the right to continue filming.
In his daily blog, Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle says the bills are a cover-up. He argues that his organization needs such videos to continue its work.
“Our exposes aren’t just important for raising public awareness about the mistreatment of animals,” he wrote. “HSUS investigations have led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, misdemeanor and felony cruelty convictions, closure of rogue slaughter plants, and disciplinary actions for government inspectors not doing their jobs. None of these important services we fulfill would be possible if such far-reaching and stifling laws are enacted.”
Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, told his followers “capturing images of abuse is a powerful tool for change, and in many cases, has led to amendments in laws and policies to protect farm animals.”
Animal Agriculture Alliance — a national organization that works to inform media and consumers about modern farming, says “activist groups have capitalized on the growing rural-urban disconnect by using highly edited, emotionally charged images to advance a political agenda that is decidedly anti-animal agriculture.”
The organization takes issue with the loosely used term “factory farm,” saying 98 percent of the nation’s farms are still family owned. It faults extreme activism for “systematically working to put farmers out of business while increasing the cost of meat, milk and eggs” until they become unaffordable.
Shipley said another concerned party are members of the media, who wonder whether the bill would infringe on free press rights. He said media would still be allowed to take pictures and videos, including from the road.
But they would need permission if on the farmer’s property.