Ag-gag laws

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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Ag-gag laws are laws intended to prevent whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty on farms. Reporters have noted that some of these laws could also be used to criminalize anti-fracking activists, or those who protest the drilling of shale oil and gas using the radical and polluting hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" technique.[1] The term "ag gag" for the laws was coined by Mark Bittman in an April 2011 New York Times column.[2]

Bills to ban photographing or videotaping animal enterprises without the owners' or managers' consent or to restrict investigation of animal cruelty or safety were proposed or are active in Idaho (passed, signed),[3] Arizona,[4] Indiana[5] and New Hampshire[6] in 2014. Similar bills were proposed or passed in Iowa (passed), Florida (defeated), New York (died), and Minnesota (died) in 2011; in Indiana (died), Utah (passed), South Carolina (passed), Nebraska (died), Illinois (defeated), and Missouri (passed, modified) in 2012;[7] and in Arkansas (passed),[8] Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana,[9] Nebraska, New Hampshire (died for 2013, rolled over to 2014),[10] New Mexico (died), Tennessee (passed, vetoed),[11][12] Wyoming,[13] California,[14] Vermont,[15] and North Carolina[16] in early 2013 (prompting Grist to ask if 2013 will be the "year of ag-gag bills"[17]).

Three similar laws, more broad in scope rather than limited primarily to recording, were passed in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota in 1990 and 1991 (for more, see below).[18]

The map below was created by Mother Jones in June 2013 and so is up-to-date only as of that point:

This map has been reprinted courtesy of Mother Jones. To view the map in its original interactive form, click here.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund took the state of Utah to court over its ag-gag law in 2013.[19] Slow Food USA and the Food Integrity Campaign (FIC, a campaign of the Government Accountability Project) have campaigns to oppose these laws, and AnimalVisuals.org tracks the laws and factory farm investigations they appear to respond to.[20] FIC points out why undercover video is essential: "When it comes to bringing horrific truths to the public eye, undercover footage and images are often an effective outlet for whistleblowers who otherwise risk retaliation when speaking up. Going through 'proper channels' to report abuse often results in supervisors intimidating those employees who have made complaints to keep quiet. Statements by Ag Gag bill sponsors imply that 'real' whistleblowers have a safe and effectual means for speaking up, when history shows that's often not the case."[21]

Dozens of groups non-profit free speech advocacy, animal welfare advocacy, environmental advocacy, food safety watchdog, and other groups have expressed opposition to "ag gag" bills.[22]

Videos of Farm Animal Abuse

California "Slaughterhouse Investigation: Cruel and Unhealthy Practices" video by HSUS

Some of the videos made on factory farms that are alleged to have spawned the spate of "Ag Gag" bills include:

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

The ideological ancestor of the bills that were introduced starting in 2011 is a 2002 "model" bill called the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" (AETA) pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),[24] the corporate bill mill responsible for spreading 2011's spate of "voter ID" laws[25] and the NRA-drafted "Stand your Ground" law,[26] as Green is the New Red author Will Potter has pointed out[27] and the Center for Media and Democracy has documented.

ALEC took credit for the recent set of bills, with spokesman Bill Meierling telling the Associated Press that "he wishes now that the organization had called its legislation the 'Freedom to Farm Act' rather than the 'Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act'" and, "At the end of the day it's about personal property rights or the individual right to privacy. You wouldn't want me coming into your home with a hidden camera."[28]

AETA broadly prohibits various kinds of "obstruction" of "an animal or natural resource activity," including by damage or destruction, trespassing, as well as "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."[29]

The newer "ag gag" bills focus more exclusively on "prohibiting a person from entering onto a farm or photographing or video recording a farm without the owner's written consent" (from Florida's 2011 bill).

ALEC approved AETA and started pushing it both in the states and at the federal level in January 2004, with its publication of the propaganda pamphlet "Animal & Ecological Terrorism in America."[30] According to a text comparison performed by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the ALEC bill appears to be based on a 1990 Kansas bill called the "Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act."[31]

After ALEC started pushing the bill, it was introduced in Tennessee in 2006, but died in committee; a limited version was passed in California in 2008; and a nearly identical bill was introduced in Washington State in 2010 (see CMD's text comparison here), but died in committee.[24]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.

Bills or Laws

Idaho

Idaho Ag-Gag Commercial by HSUS

On February 10, 2014, Sen. Jim Patrick (R-Twin Falls) and Rep. Gayle Batt (R-11) introduced S1337, "to provide for the crime of interference with agricultural production," punishable by up to a year in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, along with restitution to the agricultural facility, and "declaring an emergency," meaning that it took effect as soon as it was signed into law.[32] The maximum penalty for breaking the law -- a year in prison -- is double the state's maximum sentence for animal cruelty.[33] The bill passed the Senate on February 14 and the House on February 26 and was signed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter on February 28.[3] Idaho therefore became the seventh state to criminalize reporting on animal abuse and safety violations inside livestock facilities via hidden camera.[34] A coalition of civil liberties, animal protection, food safety, labor rights, environmental advocacy, and consumer groups -- as well as journalists -- filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the law on March 17, 2014.[35]

The bill defined the "crime" as follows:

"if the person knowingly:
(a) Is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(b) Obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(c) Obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers;
(d) Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations; or
(e) Intentionally causes physical damage or injury to the agricultural production facility's operations, livestock, crops, personnel, equipment, buildings or premises.[32]

On February 6, 2014, Sen. Patrick had introduced[36] S1298, also "to provide for the crime of interference with agricultural production," with similar penalties, and almost identical language.

The lead sponsor of both bills, Sen. Patrick, compared those attempting to record animal cruelty and food safety violations to "marauding invaders centuries ago who swarmed into foreign territory and destroyed crops to starve foes into submission."[36]

The bills' supporters include the Idaho Dairymen's Association, the Northwest Food Processors Association, and its members, "agribusiness giants J.R. Simplot Co., the Darigold milk cooperative and ConAgra Lamb Weston," according to the Idaho Statesman. Its opponents include the Humane Society of the United States (whose commercial opposing the bill is above at left), the Idaho Conservation League.[36] Chobani Yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya also opposed the bill and asked Governor Otter to veto it.[37]

The bills were reportedly "prompted by animal activists who captured cruelty at a southern Idaho dairy on film in July 2012. . . . Two years ago, a man working with the Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal-rights group Mercy for Animals got a job at a Bettencourt Dairies facility in Hansen, then captured images of workers caning, beating and stomping on cows that had fallen to the wet concrete floor."[36] The video, which was submitted to local law enforcement, led to criminal charges being brought against three facility employees. One of them pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty.[34] The Idaho Dairymen's Association claimed that the 2012 incident "was not just about prosecuting animal abuse. Dairymen testifying for the bill said the animals-rights activists were more interested in hurting the dairy and its brands than in helping animals."[37]

On June 18, 2014, Javier Victor Rojas-Loayza, a worker at Bettencourt Dairies, was sentenced to two years' probation, nearly $500 in fines and fees, and 72 hours on the sheriff's work detail after being convicted of cruelty to animals.[38] In contrast, under the state's new law, a whistleblower exposing such animal cruelty now faces up to a year in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, along with restitution to the agricultural facility.[32] Rojas-Loayza's conviction and sentencing could be the last, according to Mercy for Animals, because of the state's new law.[39]

Mercy for Animals executive director Nathan Runkle said upon S1337 becoming law, "This is a sad day for animals, consumers, the constitution, and the media… Idaho's flawed and misdirected new law will now throw shut the doors to industrial factory farms and allow animal abuse, environmental violations, and food contamination to flourish undetected, unchallenged, and unaddressed."[34]

Arizona

In early 2014, Representatives Brenda Barton (R-6), Kate Brophy McGee (R-28), Juan Carlos Escamilla (D-4), David M. Gowan, Sr. (R-14), Darin Mitchell (R-13), Steve Montenegro (R-13), Lisa Otondo (D-4), T.J. Shope (R-8), and Bob Thorpe (R-6); Senators Chester Crandell (R-6), Barbara McGuire (D-8), Lynne Pancrazi (D-4), and Steve Pierce (R-1); and Representatives Karen Fann (R-1) and Adam Kwasman (R-11) introduced HB 2587.[4] While ostensibly proposing to amend the law to better respond to animal cruelty, the bill actually introduces the mandatory reporting clause shared by the most recent spate of "ag gag" bills in Indiana (below) and elsewhere, although in this case it gives Arizona Department of Agriculture -- not law enforcement or any other agency -- "the authority to investigate an alleged violation of this section." It also contains a clause exempting "activities involving the possession, training, transport, exhibition or use of the animal in the otherwise lawful pursuits of hunting, ranching, farming, rodeos, shows, fairs, auctions and security services."[4] The bill was scheduled for a hearing by the House Agriculture and Water Committee on Tuesday, February 11, 2014.[40] The Arizona Republic reported that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona Humane Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, and free-speech advocates are opposed to the bill, while the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association and Arizona Farm Bureau Federation are pushing it.[41] Of the bill's sponsors, at least Reps. Barton, McGee, Gowan, and Fan, and Sens. Crandell and Pierce have known ties to ALEC.

Indiana (2014)

Indiana's 2013 ag gag bill died in conference committee (see below). However, on January 7, 2014, Senator Travis Holdman (R-19) -- who authored ag gag bills in both 2012 and 2013 -- authored SB 101 on "agricultural operations and criminal trespass," and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law,[42] which included the bill in its January 7 and January 14 agendas.[43] Muncie Voice" reported it to include "even more harmful language to prosecute environmental and animal rights watchdogs who expose dangerous and unethical practices at factory farms. . . . It allows owners of industrial livestock operations to post signs on their property that list whatever the owner determines are criminal activities – 'crimes' which could include videotaping, photography, or reporting observations of abuse to law enforcement officials or the press. Violators of these operator-defined 'crimes' will be considered to have committed a level 6 felony."[5] Groups opposing the bill include the Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, Hoosier Environmental Council, Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana Broadcasters Association, Indiana CAFO Watch, Indiana Farmers’ Union, National Press Photographers Association, National Young Farmers Coalition, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and The Humane Society of the Unites States.[44]

New Hampshire

In January 2014, New Hampshire's 2013 ag gag bill was revived, with a reported "floor date" of January 8, 2014.[6]

In January 2013, the New Hampshire state House of Representatives introduced HB110, "requiring persons who record cruelty to livestock to report such cruelty and submit such recordings to a law enforcement agency."[45] The primary sponsor is Representative Robert Haefner (R-37). The bill was retained in the Environment and Agriculture Committee on February 26, 2013.[46] Like those introduced in January 2013 in Nebraska and Wyoming, it focuses on quick reporting of any incident, in this case within 24 hours.[47]

In November 2013, the Environment and Agriculture Committee passed the bill out of committee with a recommendation to the legislature to pass the bill with an amendment, #2209h (new title),[48] extending the reporting period from 24 hours to 48 hours.[49]

North Carolina

Butterball Abuse: Undercover Mercy For Animals Investigation Reveals Cruelty

In April 2013, the North Carolina state Senate introduced the "Commerce Protection Act" (SB648), which journalist Will Potter called "a good example of how corporations and industry groups are responding to the media backlash" against "ag-gag" bills.[16] He was referring to a March 2012 Associated Press article that was widely published[28] and an April 2013 New York Times front-page article.[50]

Despite the North Carolina bill's bland name, it contains the same language and provisions as many of the "ag-gag" bills listed below, including 1) photography bans, 2) job application/fraud, and 3) mandatory reporting within (in this case) 24 hours.[16] The bill was re-referred to the Senate committee on the Judiciary on May 7, 2013,[51] and died without a vote when the legislative session ended July 26, 2013.[52]

What's more, according to Potter, "[t]he legislation was introduced on the same day that a fifth Butterball employee pled guilty to criminal cruelty to animals -- charges that wouldn’t be possible without the undercover investigations that bills like this aim to criminalize."[16] The Butterball criminal charges came to light due to an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals (video at left) that "recorded workers stomping and kicking birds, throwing them by their necks into metal cages, and beating them with metal bars. The animals had festering wounds on their bodies and eyes. Some writhed in pain on the ground. For three weeks, the employee, an undercover investigator for Mercy For Animals, documented abuse after abuse . . . ."[53] The investigation also "led to the ousting of a top Ag official in North Carolina on obstruction of justice," according to Potter in a debate on Democracy Now.[54]

On May 28, 2013, HSUS launched a series of television advertisements showing animal cruelty and urging state lawmakers to "block a special interest bill that would make it a crime for investigative journalists and advocates for the protection of animals, consumers[,] and worker safety to document and expose inhumane and illegal activity at industrial agriculture facilities."[55]

Vermont

In March 2013, the Vermont state Senate introduced "an act relating to agricultural facility fraud" (S. 162), which specifies a fine of up to $1,000 for anyone who "makes a knowingly false statement or representation as part of an application to be employed at an agricultural facility." It was sponsored by Senators Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans), Norm McAllister (R-Franklin), John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans), and Richard Westman (R-Lamoille).[15] It is very similar to the bill passed in Iowa in 2011 (more below).

Sen. Westman told the Stowe Reporter that he sponsored the bill at the request of Sen. Starr as well as the Green Mountain Dairy Farmers Cooperative Association, which he said wants the bill. According to the Reporter, "The association is made up of Agri-Mark -- the large New England dairy consortium, which includes the makers of Cabot Cheese -- St. Albans Co-op and other dairy farm organizations around Vermont." The article also points out that a "number of high-profile animal abuse cases, including in Vermont, have come to light through the efforts of agricultural whistleblowers, who often pose as people who want to work on a farm, only to use the access to film abuses there."[56]

New Mexico

In February 2013, the New Mexico state Senate introduced SB552, the "Livestock Operation Interference Act," to prohibit recording image or sound from an agricultural operation without consent and obtaining access to that operation under "false pretenses."[57] The bill's language is very similar to that of the bills in Pennsylvania (2013), Missouri (2012), and Iowa (2012). The bill was sponsored by Senator Cliff R. Pirtle (R-32),[58] and assigned to both the judicial and conservation committees.[9] It did not pass out of committee before the end of the 2013 legislative session.

California (2013)

In February 2013, the California state Assembly introduced the "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" (AB343), which bears the same name as the American Legislative Exchange Council "model" bill.[59] The bill was withdrawn by its sponsor, Assemblymember Jill Patterson (R-Fresno), on April 17, 2013, "amid stiff and growing opposition," according to the Associated Press.[60]

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the bill would have "require[d] somebody recording a video at a farming operation to turn it over to law officers within 24 hours -- in other words, before investigators could document any illegal activity under federal food-handling and safety laws. Fail to turn it in, and you pay a fine."[61]

The bill was sponsored by the California Cattlemen's Association, the trade group representing ranchers and beef producers.[14]

Tennessee (2013)

In February 2013, the Tennessee state legislature introduced two companion bills -- SB1248 and HB1191 -- to require anyone who records cruelty to animals to submit unedited photographs or video recordings to law enforcement within 24 hours. (Similar bills were introduced in Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Hampshire in 2013, focusing on quick reporting.) The bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Dolores R. Gresham (R-26) and in the House by Representative Andy Holt (R-76). The bill passed both the House and the Senate on April 17, 2013, and was sent to the governor for his signature,[62] but Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the bill on May 13, 2013.[63]

In public debate over Tennessee's bill after the bill passed and before it was signed into law by the governor, Rep. Holt sent an email to HSUS Public Policy Coordinator Kayci McLeod saying that "propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists . . . are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women," and referring to HSUS methods as "tape and rape."[64]

On May 13, 2013, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said he will veto the bill because the Attorney General called the law "constitutionally suspect", because it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee's Shield Law without saying so, and because "there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases".[65]

Illinois (2013)

In February 2013, the Illinois state Senate introduced SB1532 to amend the state's "Humane Care for Animals Act" so that "[i]f the Department of Agriculture determines that a complaint made under the Act against a person or entity is false or unfounded and made with the intent to harass the person or entity, the Department may waive any confidentiality of the complainant and refer the matter to the State's Attorney for consideration of criminal charges against the complainant." The bill's sponsor is Senator Chapin Rose (R-Champaign).[66]

Pennsylvania

In February 2013, the Pennsylvania General Assembly introduced HB683 to "provid[e] for the offense of interfering with agricultural operations." The bill includes a prohibition against recording image or sound from an agricultural operation without consent and obtaining access to that operation under "false pretenses." These offenses would be considered second or third degree felonies. The bill was introduced by Representative Gary Haluska (D-73). It was referred to the Judiciary Committee on February 12, 2013.[67]

According to Common Dreams, if passed, this law could "be used to criminalize anti-fracking activists who seek to expose environmental harms brought on by the gas drilling industry."[68]

Arkansas

In January 2013, the Arkansas state Senate introduced two new bills -- SB13 and SB14. Both were sponsored by Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6). The first, SB13, would rewrite the state's animal cruelty law to make an “improper animal investigation” by someone who is not a “certified law enforcement officer” a Class B misdemeanor with the potential for a civil penalty of $5,000.[69] The second, SB14, is similar to the other states' ag-gag bills: it would make "interference" with livestock or poultry operations a Class A or B misdemeanor and prohibit image or sound recording, either by concealing equipment or trespass, and applying for livestock or poultry employment for the purpose of doing investigative reporting.[70] As of February 26, 2013, both bills were being considered by the Senate Committee on Judiciary.[71][72][73] On April 10, 2013, SB13 passed both the House and the Senate. It was signed into law by Governor Mike Beebe on April 11, 2013, becoming Act 1160 on April 12.[74] SB14 died in the Senate on May 17, 2013.[75]

Indiana (2013)

In January 2013, the Indiana state Senate introduced two new bills -- SB373 and SB391/HB 1562. The first, SB373, authored by Senator Travis Holdman (R-19), is a standard ag-gag bill, which would make it unlawful to record agricultural or industrial operations, including photographs or video recordings.[76][73] This bill passed the Senate on February 26, 2013,[77] and the House on April 15, 2013, and returned to the Senate with amendments.[78] The bill was in conference between two senators and two representatives as of April 17, 2013.[79] The House amendments diluted the bill so as not to include bans on photos and cameras, according to a Journal and Courier editorial.[80] Before it passed the state Senate, Sen. Holdman had amended it to exempt "anyone who turns over the video or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours from prosecution. However, the exemption is lost if the material is shared with a party outside of law enforcement, like a newspaper or television station."[9] (Bills with a similar exemption focusing on quick reporting were introduced in Nebraska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Tennessee in 2013.) According to the Hoosier Environmental Council, "House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indy) withdrew the conference committee report before a vote occurred on the House floor. The Senate decided not to concur with the House changes, killing the bill for this session."[81] Indiana’s General Assembly adjourned for the year on April 29, 2013.[82]

The second bill, SB391 (identical bill HB 1562 in the House), was authored by Senator Carlin Yoder (R-12) and would also make it unlawful to record agricultural operations as well as require the Indiana Board of Animal Health to maintain a registry of persons convicted of such crimes.[83][73] This bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on January 10, 2013.[84]

Nebraska (2013)

In January 2013, the Nebraska state legislature introduced LB204, "to create the offense of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal facility."[85] The bill -- like those introduced in January 2013 in Indiana and Wyoming -- focuses on quick reporting of any incident. The bill was introduced by Senator Tyson Larson (40). It was referred to the Judiciary Committee on January 17, 2013.[86] This has been called an "evolution" from 2012’s set of "ag gag" bills "because the classic prohibitions against the unauthorized audio-video recording of farm animals under the threat of felony conviction with some real hard prison time has shown up only in Wyoming" in 2013. This evolutionary change can be traced to the bill as modified in Missouri in 2012, which first put an emphasis on quick reporting.[47]

Wyoming

In January 2013, the Wyoming state House of Representatives introduced HB126, "establishing the offense of interference with an agricultural operation" and "requiring reporting of cruelty to livestock." It was sponsored in the House by libertarian Representative Sue Wallis (R-52) and in the Senate by Senator Ogden Driskill (R-1).[87] It passed the House on February 5, 2013, and moved to the Senate for discussion and vote.[88] According to the Food Poisoning Bulletin, "The bill makes it a crime to 'knowingly or intentionally' record images or sounds of an agricultural operation with concealed devices without the owner’s consent. The bill does state that anyone who reports abuse to local police 'within 48 hours' is immune from civil liability. Criminal penalties, however, include six months in jail and a $750 fine."[89]

Missouri

On February 29, 2012, an "ag gag" bill, HB 1860, was introduced in Missouri by State Rep. Casey Guernsey (R-3).[90] An omnibus agricultural bill containing a modified version of ag gag passed the State Senate on May 17, 2012. The version approved by the House would have criminalized undercover videos and limited the ability of animal rights activists to gain access to a livestock farm or facility, whereas the version approved by the Senate requires anyone with photos or video of animal abuse or neglect to report it to law enforcement within 24 hours.[91] The Senate bill, SB 631, was signed by the governor on July 9, 2012.[92]

As pointed out by journalist Will Potter, the language of the bill as originally introduced was very similar to Iowa's HF 589, which was introduced in March 2011 and passed and was signed in March 2012 (see more below).[93] Missouri's bill:

"A person commits the crime of agricultural production facility fraud if he or she willfully obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses or knowingly makes a false statement or misrepresentation as part of an application for employment at an agricultural production facility with the intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner."[94]

Iowa's bill:

"1. A person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud if the person willfully does any of the following:
"a. Obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses.
"b. Makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized."[95]

South Carolina

On April 7, 2011, Senator Daniel B. Verdin, III (R-9) introduced S788, the "Farm Animal and Research Facilities Protection Act," to the South Carolina state Senate. The bill was amended and passed the Senate on April 12 and the House on May 30, with changes concurred to by the Senate on May 31, and signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley (an ALEC alumnus) on June 7, 2012.[96]

According to Mother Jones, South Carolina's law criminalizes "trespassing at an animal facility with the intent to cause damage or harm."[97] According to the full act summary, "A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, the person exercises control over an animal facility or the property located there, or if that person damages the facility or its property. A person also commits an offense if he or she enters a facility without the effective consent of the owner and remains concealed with the intent to disrupt or damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility. Violation for disruption or damage to a facility or its property is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 3 years imprisonment. Violation for illegal entry is a misdemeanor with a fine up to $5,000 and/or 1 year imprisonment."[98]

Utah

An "ag gag" bill was introduced in Utah February 8, 2012, sponsored by Rep. John G. Mathis (R-55), a veterinarian.[99][100] The bill went through two substitutions before passing the House and Senate, sponsored by Sen. David P. Hinkins (R-27), in late February.[101][102] Governor Gary Herbert signed the bill on March 20, 2012.[103]

In April 2013, Will Potter broke the news in his Green is the New Red blog that the first charge based on Utah's new "ag gag" law had been made against a woman, Amy Meyer, who had reportedly filmed a slaughterhouse in Draper, Utah using her smart phone.[104] The charges had actually been filed February 19, with the filming occurring on February 8, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. She was charged with a Class B misdemeanor under the new law. However, a day after the news broke, the public prosecutor dropped the case against her, citing "new evidence" received during a hearing April 18. Prosecutor Benjamin Rasmussen explained that Meyer had provided "video footage showing that she was on public property during at least some of the time she was filming the slaughterhouse." Meyer had previously pleaded not guilty to the charge. Both she and her defense attorney, Stewart Gollan, claim that she never left public property.[105] According to a written statement, Meyer observed several examples of animal cruelty at the slaughterhouse, including "a live cow who appeared to be sick or injured being carried away from the building in a tractor, as though she were nothing more than rubble," as well as "piles of horns scattered around the property and flesh being spewed from a chute on the side of the building."[106]

Illinois (2012)

An "ag gag bill" was introduced in Illinois on February 8, 2012, by Rep. Jim Sacia (R-89), but tabled on March 9, 2012.[107]

Tennessee (2012)

An "ag gag bill" was introduced in Tennessee on January 26, 2012, by Representative Andy Holt (R-76) in the state House of Representatives (HB3620) and by Senator Dolores R. Gresham (R-26) in the state Senate (SB3460).[108] Under this bill, according to the Animal Law Coalition, "it would be a crime for anyone to apply for employment with the intent to cause economic damage to the employer by taking unauthorized video or audio recordings while on the premises and then releasing the recording to a third party such as a newspaper. Under the bill evidence of animal cruelty captured on the recording would not be admissible. A first violation would be a Class B misdemeanor. A second violation would be a Class A misdemeanor."[109] Both bills died in committee.

Nebraska (2012)

An "ag gag bill" was introduced in Nebraska on January 10, 2012, by Sen. Tyson Larson (40), Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh (18) and Sen. Ken Schilz (47) (Nebraska's legislature is nonpartisan and unicameral). [110]

Indiana (2012)

An "ag gag bill" was introduced in Indiana on on January 4, 2012, by Sens. Travis Holdman (R-19) and Ron Grooms (R-46),[111] but failed to move out of Senate committee.[112] According to The Humane Society of the United States, "S.B.184 would have criminalized videographers who exposed harmful activity on factory farms while shielding abusers from prosecution and keeping the public at arm’s length. The bill died in committee when it was denied a hearing. Citizens had raised concerns over the bill’s threats to First Amendment rights, food safety, animal welfare and workers’ rights."[113]

New York

An "ag gag" bill was introduced in New York State on May 3, 2011, by Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-48). As of January 4, 2012, it had been referred back to the Agriculture Committee.[114] According to The Humane Society of the United States, "The New York state legislature is considering a dangerous measure (S.5172) to curtail free speech by prohibiting whistle-blowing at factory farms. Responding to a recent investigation at New York’s largest dairy factory that revealed shocking images of animal abuse,[115] NY’s agribusiness industry is now attempting to shield its inhumane practices from any further public scrutiny and debate. Existing law already prohibits trespass. This bill aims to stifle open dialogue of the treatment of animals on factory farms by targeting legal investigative reporting."[116]

Minnesota

Introduced on April 4, 2011, Minnesota's House File No. 1369 is the bill that would ban photos and videos at livestock facilities.[117][118] (The bill is S.F. 1118 in the Minnesota State Senate.[119]) The bill " targets anyone who documents an “image or sound” of animal suffering in a sweeping list of “animal facilities,” including factory farms, animal experimentation labs, and puppy mills."[120] It bans:

  • "Animal facility interference:" Producing "a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility" without the owner's consent. Additionally, this provision targets those who “possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility.”
  • "Animal facility tampering:" Bans taking animals from a facility or "disrupting" the operations of a livestock facility.
  • "Animal facility fraud:" Targets undercover investigators and whistleblowers who obtain access to an animal facility by “false pretense” (i.e. taking a job at a livestock operation in order to obtain undercover video).
Screenshot of Christensen Farms site showing Hamilton as the Communications contact
Screenshot taken May 5, 2011 of Christensen Farms site showing Hamilton as the Communications contact

"The bill also includes parallel provisions for “crop operation interference,” “crop operation tampering,” and “crop operation fraud."[121] Presumably, the provisions about crop operation tampering target activists who might destroy genetically modified crops, a tactic common in Europe but uncommon in the United States.

H.F. 1369 was authored by six Republicans, several of whom have ties to the agriculture industry:

In the Senate, the sponsors are:

Iowa

In Iowa, Senate File 431 and House File 589 prohibit anyone from producing, possessing, or distributing a record of a “visual or audio experience occurring at [an] animal facility.”[126][127] The House bill, which passed March 17, 2011, was originally introduced by Rep. Annette Sweeney on March 1, 2011.[128][129] Sweeney operates a family cattle operation and she is the former Executive Director of the Iowa Angus Association.[130][131] In the Senate, the bill was initially introduced by Tom Rielly.[132] One of his top campaign contributors in 2008 was the Iowa Farm Bureau.[133]

The bill passed and was signed by Governor Bradstad on March 2, 2012.[134] According to the DesMoines Register, "The National Institute on Money in State Politics has found that almost 10 percent of the $8.9 million Gov. Terry Branstad raised in his most recent campaign came from the agriculture industry. And almost $8,000 -- more than one-fourth of all the campaign money raised in 2010 by Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport, a self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who led discussion on the bill -- came from the ag sector, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group."[135]

Florida

In Florida, Senate Bill 1246, introduced February 21, 2011, would have "prohibit[ed] a person from entering onto a farm and making any audio record, photograph, or video record at the farm without the owner's written consent."[136] The bill was written "at the behest of Wilton Simpson of Pasco County, whose Simpson Farms produces 21 million eggs annually for Florida’s second-largest egg seller, Tampa Farm Service, Inc."[137] The bill was written by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa.

The language was later included in the omnibus agriculture bill SB1184/HB1021. In January 2012, the "ag gag" language was struck from the bill in committee,[138] and then died in committee on March 9, 2012.[139]

Predecessors to Modern "Ag Gag" Bills

The above bills and laws were not the first to try to limit activists' and investigative journalists' access to livestock facilities. The first "ag gag" bill was passed in Kansas long before Mark Bittman coined the term -- in 1990. According to Doris Lin, animal rights attorney and the Vice President of Legal Affairs for the Bear Education and Resource Group, and Bret Hopman of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "The modern laws tend to focus on undercover investigations, while the older laws were also concerned about property damage and the liberation/theft of animals."[18] Some bills, like Washington State's 2010 SB 6566 below, focused on both.

Washington State

On January 10, 2010, Washington State Senator Val Stevens introduced SB 6566, which contains a sweeping definition of "eco-terrorist organization," defines civil disobedience -- specifically, "[e]ntering or remaining on the premises of an animal or horticultural facility if the person or organization” has “received notice to depart but failed to do so" -- as "terrorism," and targets those who "[p]articipate in or support animal or ecological terrorism, including raising, soliciting, collecting, or providing any person with material, financial support, or other resources such as lodging, training, safe houses, false documentation, or identification, communications, equipment, or transportation that will be used in whole or in part to encourage, plan, prepare, carry out, publicize, promote, or aid an act of animal or ecological terrorism, the concealment of, or an escape from an act of animal or ecological terrorism."[140] Journalist Will Potter pointed out in a February 2010 article that, "if you replace 'animal and ecological' with 'civil rights' throughout this bill, it could easily have been used against those activists at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, the Greensboro Four."[141]

California

On February 21, 2008, California State Assemblyman Gene Mullin introduced AB 2296, the "Animal Enterprise Protection Act," prohibits the posting of publicly available information about "animal enterprises" on activist websites, restricts access to public meetings, and requires heavy-handed penalties for non-violent civil disobedience. The bill expanded upon the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which was signed in November 2006. California's bill, as amended to narrow the scope of "animal enterprise" to the protection of "academic researcher"s, was signed into law as the "Researcher Protection Act of 2008" on September 28, 2008.[142] As such, it had the support of the University of California system and passed both houses with bipartisan unanimous support.[143]

Tennessee (2006)

In February 2006, State Rep. Frank Niceley introduced HB 3307, the "Tennessee Ecoterrorism Act,"[144] which would have made it a crime to "[d]amage or destroy an enterprise facility or damage, free, or destroy any animal, plant, or property in or on an enterprise facility with the intent to disrupt or damage the enterprise conducted at the facility." The bill did not pass out of committee.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Niceley said:

"First let me try to explain eco-terrorism. I’m surprised that you haven’t heard of it. Take one group, the PETA group. According to the FBI they’re the number one domestic terrorist group in America. They are considered eco-terrorists.
"Eco-terrorists are, uh, I guess left-wing eco-greenies. They don’t have leader. They’re a leaderless terrorism group. They just kind of spring up sporadically. They do things like, uh, turn research animals out on the interstate, turn farm animals loose from semis in the middle of town. They drive spikes in logs going that go into the saw mill so that it will knock the teeth out of the saw mills. They put sugar in uh, in firefighting equipment in the, in the national forest, and, and just uh, it’s a different type of terrorism. They don’t have Osama bin Laden leadin’ ‘em…"[145]

According to Will Potter, "PETA isn’t listed as a 'terrorist' organization, and activists don’t release animals on the interstate or the middle of town, but facts don’t mean much in this 'War on Terrorism.' . . . [The bill] never made it out of committee, but its language appeared in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. . ."[146]

Oregon

In February 2003, Senator Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), an ALEC member then through at least 2012, former Senator Ken Messerle (R-24), and former Representative Wayne Kreiger (R-1) introduced SB 385, "An act relating to eco-sabotage." ALEC linked the bill to its "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" with the following comparisons:[30]

"Same: (Based on ALEC principles)

  • Eco-sabotage is defined to include unlawful interference with the animal and crop agriculture, fur-bearing animals, timber, food, fish, mining, natural resource management activities, research or educational work.
  • Applies to individuals and organizations.

"Different:

  • If a criminal offense constitutes eco-sabotage, the statute of limitations is extended for 5 years.
  • Eco-sabotage is a felony.
  • Expands bases for civil actions under Oregon Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to include racketeering activities that constitute eco-sabotage. Convicted persons may forfeit property, have future activities curtailed, and their organization dissolved. The state may be awarded costs of investigation and litigation for state and local agencies. No provisions for terrorist registry."[30]

SB 385 was substantially identical to an earlier bill -- SB 57 -- introduced by Senator (now Senate President) Peter Courtney (D-11) in January 2003, which used the term "eco-terrorism" rather than "eco-sabotage," as SB 385 did.[30]

Montana

In 1991, Montana enacted the "Farm Animal and Research Facility Protection Act," which is similar to Kansas' 1990 "Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act."[147]

North Dakota

In 1991, North Dakota enacted the "Animal Research Facility Damage" law, which is similar to both Kansas' "Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act" and Montana's "Farm Animal and Research Facility Protection Act."[148]

Kansas

Called the "Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act," Kansas' 1990 changed the law to prohibit the following activities:

(a) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility, damage or destroy an animal facility or any animal or property in or on an animal facility.
(b) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner, acquire or otherwise exercise control over an animal facility, an animal from an animal facility or other property from an animal facility, with the intent to deprive the owner of such facility, animal or property and to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility.
(c) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility:
(1) Enter an animal facility, not then open to the public, with intent to commit an act prohibited by this section;
(2) remain concealed, with intent to commit an act prohibited by this section, in an animal facility;
(3) enter an animal facility and commit or attempt to commit an act prohibited by this section; or
(4) enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or by any other means.
(d) (1) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility, enter or remain on an animal facility if the person:
(A) Had notice that the entry was forbidden; or
(B) received notice to depart but failed to do so.
(2) For purposes of this subsection (d), "notice" means:
(A) Oral or written communication by the owner or someone with apparent authority to act for the owner;
(B) fencing or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders or to contain animals; or
(C) a sign or signs posted on the property or at the entrance to the building, reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders, indicating that entry is forbidden.
(e) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage or destroy the field crop product, damage or destroy any field crop product that is grown in the context of a product development program in conjunction or coordination with a private research facility or a university or any federal, state or local governmental agency.
(f) No person shall, without the effective consent of the owner and with the intent to damage or destroy the field crop product, enter any property, with the intent to damage or destroy any field crop product that is grown in the context of a product development program in conjunction or coordination with a private research facility or a university or any federal, state or local governmental agency.
(g) (1) Violation of subsection (a) or (e) is a severity level 7, nonperson felony if the facility, animals, field crop product or property is damaged or destroyed to the extent of $25,000 or more. Violation of subsection (a) or (e) is a severity level 9, nonperson felony if the facility, animals, field crop product or property is damaged or destroyed to the extent of at least $1,000 but less than $25,000. Violation of subsection (a) or (e) is a class A nonperson misdemeanor if the facility, animals, field crop product or property damaged or destroyed is of the value of less than $1,000 or is of the value of $1,000 or more and is damaged to the extent of less than $1,000.
(2) Violation of subsection (b) is a severity level 10, nonperson felony.
(3) Violation of subsection (c) is a class A, nonperson misdemeanor.
(4) Violation of subsection (d) or (f) is a class B nonperson misdemeanor.
(h) The provisions of this section shall not apply to lawful activities of any governmental agency or employees or agents thereof carrying out their duties under law.[149]

Slow Food USA Campaign

To challenge the so-called "ag-gag" laws, Slow Food USA asked its members to become the "farmarazzi," visiting farms, chatting with the farmer about the proposed bills, and then taking and posting pictures of the farm on Slow Food USA's Facebook page. Additionally, Slow Food USA asked members and supporters to sign their petition opposing the bills.

"We live in a time when we’re not always aware of where our food comes from and how it grows. The bipartisan legislators in Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota who’ve proposed these laws charge that unapproved photos and videos misrepresent the realities of farming and damage the public perception of our nation’s food producers. But pictures don’t lie. Inhumane and unhealthy conditions are present in our food system, and keeping that information from the public won’t make them go away. We must come together nationally to stop this dangerous precedent of suppressing outrage against bad farming practices by suppressing the public’s right to see what they’re eating.
"Even more outrageous is that the pending laws apply to photos of all farms—even those upholding good, clean, and fair farming practices. So how can we convince these legislators that they’re wrong? By sending a petition to the key legislators in each state, and also by flooding their offices with photos of real farms, submitted by people like you, from all around the country. Let’s show those lawmakers that we, the Farmarazzi, are taking a stand to safeguard our right to know what goes on behind closed barn doors."[150]

Resources and Articles

Related SourceWatch Articles

Related PRWatch Articles

External Resources

External Articles

References

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