Idaho’s New Agricultural Security Law

One of Idaho’s newest laws was signed into the books by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on Friday. The law, pertaining to agricultural security, has caused quite a ruckus in the state, and with good reason.

The new law, formerly Senate Bill #1337, protects agricultural production facilities, including farms, ranches, feedlots, dairies, research buildings, and more, from interference by any person wishing to cause economic or physical injury to that establishment.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and up to a $5,000 fine, to participate in a number of activities, including making audio or video recordings of operations at the facility, causing physical damage, obtaining employment by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to bring harm, or to enter such a facility or obtain records by the same force, threat or misrepresentation.

The bill came as a result of the 2012 campaign against Idaho’s largest dairy facility, Bettencourt Dairies. The Los Angeles-based activist group, Mercy for Animals, had planted an undercover investigator at the dairy, who then videotaped animals being abused. The abusers in the video were quickly arrested and charged after the video was obtained by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and shown to Mr. Bettencourt, but the video was released after prosecution of the criminals had begun, with the intent to economically damage the dairy.  The family and their employees also received many threatening emails, phone calls and letters, including a threatening letter from Lisa Kauffman, the Idaho Director of the Humane Society of the United States.

“The dairy farmer who fell victim to the activist group is well-known for his unquestioned compassion for his animals,” VanderHulst added. “He is a true steward of his cows, his land and his community. To see him be persecuted in the public eye for an issue that everyone agrees has been corrected shows the true and clear motivation of these activist groups (http://tinyurl.com/kssq27d).”

Proponents of the bill gave many for reasons for the necessity of #1337. The main reason is that Idaho’s farming, ranching, and dairy families need protection from the increasingly aggressive and damaging attacks on the industry from activists more interested in destroying the reputation and economic capacity of the targeted facility instead of protecting animals or protesting bioengineering.

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Happy dairy cows
Photo source

Detractors of the bill call it an “ag-gag” bill, which makes it a crime to provide evidence of abuse, and makes taking a video or picture of abuse more of a crime than committing the abuse itself.

“Not only will this ag-gag law perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply,” said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals. “This law is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in food production (http://tinyurl.com/mkgfxor).”

Ag Security Bill protestors at the Idaho State Capitol  Photo source

Ag Security Bill protestors at the Idaho State Capitol
Photo source

The full text of the bill can be found here. Click on the “Bill Text” link.

Personally, I support the spirit of this law, which seeks to prevent Idaho’s farming families from being eviscerated by the media through the use of video gained without permission in order to bring their operation harm. It is wrong to use such intimidating and unethical tactics against a family who really does have the best interest of their animals in mind. Ranchers and dairymen don’t tolerate abuse of their animals in any way, and are typically swift to act when they hear of it.

However, I wish the bill were written in a way that enables honest employees to provide evidence of abuse to their employers or law enforcement officials. Guidelines for what should be done with the video/pictures, and in what time frame, should have been included in this bill. For example, if the law said that any video or photos taken must be turned over to authorities for prosecution of the abusers within 48 hours of being recorded, and not distributed to be used in attacks against the facility, that would make the law much more appealing. This would provide a clear way for swiftly dealing with abuse, and protect both the animals and the facilities.

Idaho legislators also need to get to work on creating more comprehensive animal abuse laws, to ensure that the penalties for abuse are far harsher than videotaping the abuse. The Idaho dairy industry should also implement state-wide guidelines for training employees in animal welfare, surveillance systems, and inspections to help prevent abuse from occurring.

Idaho needs a whole package of state laws and industry regulation to ensure the safety of Idaho’s agricultural families, their employees, fields and livestock. S1337, while it has major flaws, has most definitely gotten the dialogue started, and hopefully it will lead to more comprehensive and fair laws to protect both the animals and those wishing to bring any abuse to light.

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