A bill is making its way through the Iowa Legislature to prevent animal rights activists from getting hired on farms just so they can secretly record what they believe is mistreatment of livestock. The bill has strong support from farmers angered by repeated releases of secretly filmed videos claiming to show the mistreatment of farm animals.
The proposed legislation provides punishment for individuals who gain employment at livestock confinements under false pretenses, fail to report animal abuse and then videotape those abuses as "undercover" agents.
The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved the bill 65 to 27 last week. It must now pass the Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate and be signed by Governor Terry Branstad to become law. The bill, known as Senate File 431, The Ag Protection Act, will be debated in the Iowa Senate the week of March 21.
This bill is to be debated in Iowa Senate this week
The bill, if it becomes law in Iowa, would make it illegal to secretly record and distribute videos and would punish those who take jobs on farms only to gain access to record animals' treatment. Penalties would include up to five years in prison and fines of up to $7,500.
"We are asking farmers to call their state senator now to express support for passing this bill," says Carol Balvanz, policy director for the Iowa Soybean Association. The Senate switchboard number at the State Capitol in Des Moines for calls Monday through Friday is 515-281-3371.
Animal rights activists, including organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are lobbying hard to try to defeat this bill. They claim such a law would infringe on freedom of speech.
State legislators are under a barrage of emails and phone calls from people urging them to defeat the bill and prevent animal cruelty, as well as protect the free speech of "whistle blowers." You can read how Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, sees this issue in his recent blog at http://hsus.typepad.com/wayne/2011/03/anti-investigation-bills.html.
This bill would protect farmers from radical activists
This bill is important to the future of Iowa's farmers, say leaders of Iowa's major commodity organizations. Producers of corn, soybeans, hogs, cattle, dairy, poultry and eggs have a stake in how this issue is resolved.
They offer the following observations and encourage farmers to use these "talking points" when having a conversation with their legislators about the importance of this legislation to the rights of livestock and crop producers.
This bill is not about "freedom of speech." It is about fraudulent acts committed by people who falsify information to obtain jobs at animal facilities with the intent to provide negative videos (which are often staged) to the Animal Rights movement. In several cases where videos have been created, the "employee" who created it actually had signed a statement saying he or she would report animal abuse immediately to the manager or owner of the livestock operation. The abuse was not reported to the employer. It was only recorded by the fraudulent employee.
Beware of groups using fraudulent methods. Animal rights groups who acquire these videos really don't care about the health and well-being of livestock. That is evidenced by the tiny amount of money (less than 1% of their budget) that groups like HSUS put toward animal care. They really want to eliminate livestock production and will use fraudulent methods to accomplish their goal.
Fraudulent employees pose food safety threat. People who are fraudulent employees also pose a threat to food safety and to U.S. food security. They can bring in diseases and obviously do not take bio-security seriously. If Iowa's livestock production facilities are an "easy target" for people who want to infiltrate the premises, it's possible that terrorists could use the same path to harm our food system.
Livestock producers care about their animals. Iowa livestock farmers understand the importance of animal well-being better than anyone. Animal housing systems have been developed to protect animals from the elements of weather, from outside predators and from disease. All livestock groups (such as the pork producer, cattle industry, dairy and poultry organizations) have developed species-specific, science-based animal care guidelines which producers are encouraged to adhere to. Animal rights organizations should not be the source of animal care information or guidelines.
How to contact your state senator in Des Moines about this issue
"Please call your senator to let them know that passing this bill is important to you," Balvanz is telling farmers. "Even if you believe that your senator is supportive of agriculture, you need to call and/or send an email to them to provide support—since all senators at the Statehouse in Des Moines are receiving a barrage of emails and phone calls from Animal Rights advocates."
What the Iowa House version of the bill passed last week contains
Similar to the legislation now being considered by the Iowa Senate, the House version prohibiting interference or damaging a farm was approved by the Iowa House of Representatives last week.
House File 589 prohibits a person from entering or damaging agricultural property, where either livestock are raised or crops are grown. The bill includes penalties for tampering with farm property, killing or injuring an animal, disrupting the farm operation or committing theft. The bill provides for penalties if a person engages in fraud to enter the facility, for example, by using false pretenses to obtain permission to enter the property.
Also, it prohibits trespassing onto farm property and prohibits videotaping of the private property without permission of the farm operator. HF 589 passed by a vote of 65-27. The bill now moves to the Iowa Senate for further consideration as Senate File 431. "The Iowa Corn Growers Association supports the bill," says Mindy Larson Poldberg, director of government affairs for ICGA.