Dairy cows feed through a fence at an Idaho farm, in this 2009 file photo. Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter enacted a bill Friday that criminalizes the act of secretly filming animal abuse at farms. Charlie Litchfield/AP
Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has signed a bill that criminalizes the act of secretly filming animal abuse at agricultural facilities. The move comes days after the state’s legislature approved the measure.
“Otter, a rancher, said the measure promoted by the dairy industry ‘is about agriculture producers being secure in their property and their livelihood,’” according to the AP.
Under the law signed today, anyone caught making secret video recordings of agricultural operations could face a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The legislation refers to “the crime of interference with agricultural production.”
Idaho is one of at least 10 states that have taken up so-called “ag gag” legislation after “videos revealing apparent cruel treatment of farm animals went viral” in recent years, as Kathleen Masterson reported for NPR in 2012.
The Idaho legislation was introduced after “Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal rights group Mercy for Animals showing workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and sexually abusing cows in 2012,” the AP says.
After today’s signing, Mercy for Animals executive director Nathan Runkle issued a statement that read in part:
“Governor Otter has failed Idaho and the American people. By signing this bill into law, he has sided with those who seek to keep Idaho’s corrupt factory farming practices hidden from public view and created a safe haven for animal abuse and other criminal activity in the state. Mercy For Animals is exploring all legal avenues to overturn this dangerous, unconstitutional, and un-American law.”
The push to block cameras from livestock areas hit a roadblock last year, when 15 different bills failed at the state level. That failure was attributed to vigorous resistance from a coalition of groups that included the Humane Society of the U.S., as NPR’s Eliza Barclay reported in December.
Legislation that targets activists who seek to expose unhealthy or inhumane practices at meat and dairy farms has evolved in the past year, with some recent state bills requiring only that “anyone who videotapes or records animal abuse turn over a copy of the evidence to police within 48 hours.”
For activists, the problem with that requirement is that it drastically narrows the window for them to do their work. To make a powerful argument and present it as a documentary, activists need to show patterns of systemic mistreatment. To do that can require hours of video from different days, or repeated looks at the same animal to track its health.
Last year, Taimie Bryant, a professor at UCLA School of Law, told NPR’s The Salt that bills restricting attempts to document livestock conditions could also severely cut into oversight at some types of oversight.
Federal inspectors supervise animals’ welfare at slaughterhouses, Bryant said.
“But for dairies and feedlots,” she added, “these undercover videos are all we have.”