Posted by admin at 8:54 PM
The Iowa House approved a bill Thursday to prevent animal rights activists from getting hired on farms just so they can secretly record what they believe is the mistreatment of livestock.
The bill has had strong support from farmers angered by repeated releases of secretly filmed videos claiming to show the mistreatment of farm animals. It was introduced after groups around the nation released videos showing cows being shocked, pigs being beaten and chicks ground up alive.
The Republican-led House approved the measure 65-27. It must pass the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad to become law.
The bill would make it illegal to secretly record and distribute videos and punish those who take jobs on farms only to gain access to record animals’ treatment. Penalties include up to five years in prison and fines of up to $7,500.
Animal rights activists say Iowa would be the first state to approve such restrictions, although Florida is considering similar legislation. They say the bill would put a chill on anti-cruelty investigations.
Paul Shapiro, a senior director at the Humane Society of the United States, said his group releases secretly filmed videos several times a year, and its efforts have led to plant closures and the recall of millions of pounds of meat.
“There’s a role for whistleblowers at factory farms and at slaughter plants,” Shapiro said. “Keep in mind that many of these standard agribusiness practices are so extreme, so cruel, that they really are out of step with mainstream American thinking about how animals should be treated.”
Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, said Iowa is likely just the start of what he referred to as the agribusiness lobby’s “nationwide scheme” to cover up questionable practices.
“This is the epitome of special interest legislation on steroids,” Miller said. “The public has a right to know how its food is being produced. The industry obviously has a different point of view and they want to keep the public in the dark. They are concerned about being held accountable and we don’t believe that they deserve special protections.”
But supporters said the bill should encourage people to report animal abuse more quickly to authorities who can stop it. They point out that in cases such as at a hatchery in Spencer, where a video of male chicks being tossed into grinders was secretly made in 2009, no complaints were filed.
Rep. Annette Sweeney, the bill’s manager, said she thinks the bill will lead people to report abuse when they see it rather than wait and publicize it.
“As a livestock producer, I want people to feel if they see something going on, this bill empowers them,” said Sweeney, an Alden Republican and a rancher.
Tom Shipley, a lobbyist with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, said there have been instances in the state where people have gained employment under false pretenses in order to make videos.
“Perhaps not at cattle operations yet, but it has happened in other species,” Shipley said. “There really is very little ability to prosecute these people and organizations when they do these kinds of things.”
Rep. Jim Lykam, a Davenport Democrat, voted against the bill. He said good livestock operations should have no fear of undercover investigations.
“I don’t condone some overzealous group going in and damaging a farmer’s property or staging something,” Lykam said. “So why not up the trespassing penalties and up the penalties for that kind of vandalism?”
Lykam also said the bill could conflict with one approved last session to increase oversight at so-called “puppy mills.”