Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

What do “Farmers” in Minnesota, Iowa and Florida have to hide?

A few days ago I posted “Perhaps the most disturbing animal cruelty video ever.” I still cannot watch it in full. Even though I grew up on a farm and killed chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and rabbits for food, I always did it with a feeling a dread, but with nothing to hide.

Minnesota House Bill 1369 and Senate Bill 1118 would make a prohibited act “a person who acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility (defined as “a location where an agricultural animal is maintained, including but not limited to a location dedicated to farming, a livestock market, or exhibitions; a location where an animal is maintained for educational or scientific purposes, including, but not limited to, a research facility”) to willfully do any of the following is guilty of animal facility interference:

(1) produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility if:

(i) the record is created by the person while at the animal facility; and

(ii) the record is a reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium;

(2) possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility which was produced as provided in clause (1); …

The penalty for such behavior would be: “A person who commits animal facility interference is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. For a second or subsequent conviction of animal facility interference, the person is guilty of a felony. And, a person convicted of animal facility interference is subject to an order of restitution.”

Iowa Senate Bill 431 and House Bill 589 in large measure mirror Minnesota. In Iowa, “a person is guilty of animal facility interference, if the person acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility to willfully do any of the following:

a. Produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility as follows:

(1) The record must be created by the person while at the animal facility

(2) The record must be a reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium.

b. Possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility which was produced as provided in paragraph “a”….

A person who commits the offense of animal facility interference is guilty of the following:

a. For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.

b. For a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class “D” felony.

c. A person convicted of animal facility interference is subject to an order of restitution as provided in chapter 910.

The Florida Senate Bill 1246 is a tad less verbose, but the point is the same.  Any person, except an employee or agent of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services acting pursuant to s. 570.15, Florida Statutes, or a law enforcement officer conducting a lawful inspection or investigation, who enters onto a farm or other property where legal agriculture operations are being conducted and produces audio or video records without the written consent of the owner or an authorized representative of the owner, commits misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, Florida Statutes.  As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Audio or video records” means any audio or video recording, regardless of the recording medium or format, including, but not limited to, photographs, audio or videotapes, cd’s, dvd’s, or streaming media, whether stored on film stock, hard disks, solid state storage, or any electrical, magnetic, or optical or other form of data storage.

(b) “Farm” means any tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals, or the storage of a commodity.

You have to wonder what the so-called “farmers” in these states are seeking to protect? Yes, having someone film you abusing animals or running an operation without any concern to food safety, is embarrassing – and it should be – and it should be punished. But, punishing those who expose it should not be. With billion dollar holes in state budgets, legislatures have more important things to do than making our food supply even less transparent.

Thanks to my friends at Simple, Good and Tasty.

  • Sam

    People who abuse (or allow the abuse of) animals often end up abusing people. The owners of modern cattle feedlots and chicken houses aren’t so concerned about video of animal abuse; they are afraid we will see the environment in which their employees toil.
    The meat industry was once a source of family wage jobs. Now the labor is done mostly by undocumented foreign workers who can be paid little or nothing, and who live in fear of their employers.
    Buying locally grown and butchered meat products IS a good way to ensure you do not support the unethical practices of modern factory meat farms.

  • Sam, some of the videos that I have seen over the years are not all from big players. I think abuse and problems can happen anywhere and need to be exposed. I would hope to see some of the small, local farmer/producers in Minnesota, Iowa and Florida coming out against these bills.

  • the meat producers i know are all trying to prove that they are more humane than the other guy, the trend is ceratinly against industrial farming, the only advantage factory farms have is low price. oh, and the fact that there aRE LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES FOR SMALL PRODUCERS TO PROCESS THE MEAT

  • There are definitely concerns about animal welfare when it comes to any size animal agriculture, but I don’t know if videos of animal ag is the answer. We need to consider things like property rights, lawful employment, as well as animal safety and health issues. Michele Payn-Knoper has an interesting post Candid Cameras on Factory Farms that outlines some of the problems with farm videos, and Jeff Fowle (a rancher) has some good points as well in Animal Abuse, Video and Responsibility. Along with these two bloggers, I just don’t think things are as black and white as opponents or proponents of these laws say.

  • Bill Anderson

    This is just part of the trend of food fascism that we see emerging in the U.S. and around the world at the behest of the U.S. government. It is what happens when Monsanto executives are put in charge of the FDA, so that GMO’s and toxic chemicals are considered safe, while natural whole foods like raw milk are treated like narcotics.
    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-07-08-monsanto-FDA-taylor

  • Theresa Kentner

    I have found this in defense of my fellow Minnesotans: I am hoping for more, but wanted to get this ASAP. I have relatives who were farmers and have no tolerance for abuse of animals.

    http://www.bluestemprairie.com/bluestemprairie/2011/04/not-getting-behind-it-ag-country-daily-newspapers-reject-anti-whistleblowing-bill-.html

  • Young Bill, I really think you need to spend a bit more time making cheese and less time on the internet – you are getting a bit too stressed. Mike Taylor is a good man and I am pleased to know him. Do I agree with everything he saw and does? No. However, he did more for food safety by calling out E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant in front of the AMI in hamburger than most people do in a life time. Not all things are black and white in the real world. I would be willing to bet that you and I agree on many things, but we can not get past your yelling and name calling. Get a grip.

  • Thanks Theresa

  • Minkpuppy

    I think the legislator’s hearts are in the right place but I don’t think this is the way to go about it.
    I’m willing to bet that most producers have nothing to hide when it comes to animal welfare. They take good care of their animals and wouldn’t do anything vicious or cruel to them.
    That being said, I understand their fear of these undercover video cameras and the often creative editing that goes with it. In this day of photoshop and video editing software, how can anyone be sure what they’re seeing in the video actually happened or was just edited for maximum effect?
    The Texas video released this week probably didn’t need any editing–I stopped watching after a few seconds into it. You can’t tweak that much. However, I did see allegations on another thread that the videographer egged on the employees and encouraged them to use the pickaxes etc in order to get the most heinous acts on film. These allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and if proven to be true, the videographer needs to be prosecuted as well. I think he should be prosecuted for standing there and watching it without doing anything to stop it myself.
    What level will “animal rights” groups stoop to in order to acheive their agenda? Could they possibly be encouraging animal abuse just for the sole purpose of filming and “exposing” it? I certainly hope not. That’s so evil, I can’t even comprehend it. If they are fabricating “evidence”, it damages the credibility of real whistleblowers that have truly witnessed acts of cruelty that need to be stopped. It also hurts their credibility when they allow the abuse to continue for weeks or months on end before presenting the video online or to prosecuters. How much do they really care about the animals if they’re willing to let them continue suffering? It makes me angry.
    This is a difficult issue and there’s no clear solution. How do you protect the innocent and still go after the guilty without violating someone’s rights?

  • Bill Anderson

    Wow, Bill. You are defending the revolving door between big industry and government!!?? Because this guy is someone you know!!??
    “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini

  • Young Bill, I have really tried hard to respect you opinions, but your black and white view of the world is beyond insane. Please seek medical attention.
    Thank goodness for guys like Mike Taylor. His one act of standing up to the AMI and calling E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant has save countless children from HUS and many from an untimely death. You might make great cheese, but you will never in your life save a child.
    Perhaps, in general, I would agree that the revolving door between industry and government should stop. But, in this one instance, I am glad the door was not closed on him. That is the complexity that you can not see nor understand.
    Please do not visit or comment on my blog or email me anymore. I will no longer post your comments (I am sure you and Gumpert with smile with glee) or respond to your emails. You are a lost cause.

  • Jeff Almer

    As a resident of the great State Of Minnesota, I am truly embarrassed and outraged that a bill such as this has even made it this far along in the process. It makes me want to test the waters personally if it were to pass.
    Maybe there should not be surprise existing in the bill’s creation, but there will always be those who consider animals to be at the mercy of what people decide their fates to be in a most inhumane way.
    Sam’s earlier post about animal abuse relating to eventual abuse of people, reminds me of the bio of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He started out by dissecting and butchering multiple various animals as a kid, and then progressed to his twisted cannabalism and butchering of humans. Extreme case yes, but you get the point.
    Who introduced this legislation in Minnesota? I am most interested in contacting this individual of questionable motivations.

  • Theresa Kentner

    Jeff,
    The sponsors are listed at the top of the bill. The bill itself is available at the link.