National animal advocacy groups are taking up the fight to stop an ag gag bill that would criminalize whistleblowers who expose animal cruelty and other problems on farms in Idaho.
The bill, SB 1337, is being pushed as an “agricultural security measure” and is moving quickly through the legislature with support from the Idaho Dairymen’s Association and other agricultural producers. It’s already been sent to the Senate for a vote by the Agricultural Affairs Committee.
Senator Jim Patrick, the bill’s sponsor, told KTVB the intent is to protect farmers from several things, including trespassing, theft, wrongful employment and recordings taken undercover. Conviction for interfering with an agricultural operation under this bill could result in one year in jail and fines of up to $5,000 for each offense, regardless of whether or not someone forced their way in to obtain evidence or went undercover. In this case, the bill goes so far that it could prohibit filming on public lands that are leased for grazing.
According to Patrick, extremist animal activists are “comparable to marauding invaders centuries ago who swarmed into foreign territory and destroyed crops to starve foes into submission.”
“This is clear back in the sixth century B.C.,” Patrick told the Idaho Statesman. “This is the way you combat your enemies.”
If undercover investigators were destructive and marauding sixth century invaders were intent on exposing animal cruelty and supporting free speech or our right to know where our food comes from, he might have a point. Otherwise, not so much.
Opponents are arguing that this is a heavy handed response to an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals (MFA) that exposed horrific cruelty at Bettencourt Dairy in 2012, which resulted in the arrest of a manager and two workers who were charged with animal cruelty and a change in policy regarding the cruel practice of tail docking from Kraft Foods.
These types of investigations have opened our eyes to what we might not otherwise know about and have led to changes in laws and convictions for cruelty in other cases. Without them our ability to make informed decisions or generate a dialogue about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to animal agriculture is stripped away. Numerous attempts were made in 2013 to pass this type of legislation and they all failed for good reason.
Instead of taking meaningful action to ensure that incidents like the ones that took place at Bettencourt don’t happen again, Idaho’s lawmakers are going overboard to cover them up and to ensure that no one ever finds out about animal cruelty, food safety violations or environmental crimes that happen behind closed doors.
“This bill is an obvious attempt to keep consumers in the dark, threaten public health, food safety, and to shield animal abusers from public scrutiny,” said Matt Rice, director of investigations for MFA.
The Humane Society of the United States created an ad to remind everyone about what happened at Bettencourt and encourage people to speak out against whistleblower suppression legislation in Idaho.
Please sign and share the petition urging Idaho’s lawmakers to kill this bill and instead support transparency in agriculture. Agribusinesses should not be shielded from accountability, while those who bring cruelty and inhumane treatment to light and allow consumers to make informed choices are punished.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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