Legislature kills "ag-gag" provision

Jan 26, 2012

Thanks to the repeal of a controversial provision in a pair of bills moving through the legislature Floridians will be able to take pictures of cows and other farm animals without facing the possibility of committing a crime. Regan McCarthy reports animal rights activists are praising the house and senate for removing what they call the “ag gag” provision.

Videos like the one you just heard featuring graphic images of alleged animal abuse on farms across the country are causing quite a stir. Representative Ben Albritton, of Bartlow and fellow Republican Senator Jim Norman of Tampa are behind legislation filed that would have made it a crime for a person to capture either sound or images on a farm without first getting written permission. Ben Kelly is the legislative assistant for Senator Norman. Kelly says the provision is aimed at activists who use the footage in an effort convince consumers that a farm is acting in an inhumane way—even when that may not be true. He says the pictures or recordings are often used in misleading ways.

“Several different activists have taken pictures of different animals as they are being prepared for their purpose. And they will try to mislead the public by taking these pictures and saying they’re inhumane. That also happens with recording mechanisms. If you’ve ever walked into a chicken coup you can know that chickens can get very loud. If you record that and then play it in a public arena where no one is familiar with that they can assume that the chickens are being tortured in some way, shape, or form.”

Kelly says similar legislation has been brought forward in several other states in order to protecting the farming industry.

They will get a job or some type of menial task on the farm and the whole purpose is to record in any of these fashions, some type of agriculture activity and then try to claim they’re using inhuman ways.”

But some lawmakers say they worry passing such a bill could have a far reaching impact. Senator Bill Montford a Democrat from Tallahassee took issue with the provision. He wants to be certain legitimate animal abuse will be caught and says his concerns about such a proposal are not allayed by the fact that many farms are regularly inspected and would be investigated if reports about inhumane practices were made.

“If you know somebody is coming you’re going to clean your house up. If you know you have a guest coming”

Laura Bevan is with the Humane Society of the United States’ Southern Regional office. She says it’s important for animal rights activists to have tools, like video, at their disposal. She talks about a case in Florida.

“The person who complained to us was someone in the industry that tried desperately to get it corrected and could not. This was someone in the industry who said we need to fix this and I can’t do it any other way. So we did get undercover video. We acknowledged we were there legally—we were not trespassing and we got that video and out of it came the humane euthanasia law in Florida for live stock.”

Bevan says sometimes a report to the police is not enough.

“If we had gone and said we hear they’re doing this, they show up at the property and go ‘are you clubbing and pushing baby calves into water?’ ‘No we’re not doing that.’ But if I show you a video or photograph then you can do something with that.”

Bevan says concerns about falsified video or photographs should be dealt with in another way.

Lawmakers amended both the House and Senate bills to remove the recording provision. Those who spoke in support of the legislation say the bills include other provisions they’d like to see keep moving, such as a measure in the Senate bill to allow citrus harvesters to be able to use off-road diesel while traveling between groves. Both bills passed out of their committees as amended, but will make more stops before reaching the floor.  Bevan says she hopes Florida’s actions can serve as an example for other states considering similar legislation.