The dairy industry in Idaho is trying to push through new legislation that would make it illegal to photograph animal cruelty on their factory farms, and its sponsors are saying undercover investigations by animal welfare groups are terrorism.
The “ag-gag” bill is a direct response to an undercover investigation by the animal protection group Mercy For Animals at Bettencourt Dairies, Idaho’s largest dairy farm. The 2012 investigation revealed workers viciously beating and kicking cows, and led to criminal charges.
This week the group released additional footage to the public that also shows workers sexually abusing the cows.
The bill, SB 1337, includes a statement of purpose that it is “to protect agricultural production facilities from interference by wrongful conduct.” But the “wrongful conduct” isn’t this violence and sexual abuse at dairy farms — it’s exposing it.
The bill makes it a crime of “interference with agriculture production” to make “audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility’s operations.”
Even making a false statement on a job application to a factory farm could lead to prosecution.
It also puts journalists at risk with language targeting anyone who “obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass” (the latter two could easily wrap-up reporters).
For instance, the Boise Weekly conducted an award-winning investigation of Idaho dairies in 2011. But, the reporters say, “If a new law being pushed by the Republican majority of the Idaho Senate had been in effect then, we would have faced up to a year behind bars and fines of up to $5,000.”
The journalists would also have to pay twice the value of damages to the agricultural facility that their investigation caused.
Ag-gag laws have been opposed by a diverse coalition of organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ACLU, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, ASPCA, and many more.
To supporters of the legislation—including Idaho’s $2.5 billion milk industry—these exposés are “terrorism.”
During a hearing before the Idaho Senate last Friday, Senator Steve Blair said: “I learned a new term when doing this research. It’s called agro-terrorism… A lot of it happened very recently.”
Blair read from the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. But what he didn’t mention is that this term he learned, and its counterpart “eco-terrorism,” were made up by the industry itself. [For a detailed history of this, see Green Is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.]
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Jim Patrick, compared investigators to “marauding invaders” and went so far as to compare the targets of ag-gag laws to Al Qaeda.
Perhaps most disturbingly, Patrick indicated that even if this ag-gag bill passes, its supporters won’t be satisfied.
“…this doesn’t go far enough, this law,” he said. “I wish it would go further.”