Image credit: Friends of Family Farmers, used under Creative Commons license.
Here's a rather scary story. While detractors of my article on goat meat as a more sustainable source of animal protein may not believe it, I am a deep believer in the need to reform our farming systems and to avoid unnecessary cruelty and abuse of farm animals. From hidden webcams in factory farm chicken cages to shocking photos of some organic egg farms, undercover photography and video by activists play a crucial role in helping us all—vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike—understand what conditions are really like on the farms that produce our food. But now a new bill in Minnesota is seeking to label any such recordings as "eco-terrorism".Undercover Photography Labeled As Terrorism
Following on the footsteps of a Florida politician who wants to outlaw photographing farms, and an Iowa bill that threatens 10 years in jail for exposing animal cruelty, Minnesota seems to be the next to move against rogue photographers.
Writing over at Green Is The New Red (no, the blog title does not suggest environmentalists are all socialists - but rather that they are being treated in a McCarthy-esque manner by vested interests), Will Potter outlines how new Minnesota legislation is targeting animal activists with vague and sweeping new rules that could make exposing photography, video, or "interfering" with factory farm operations in any way a serious crime:
1. "Animal facility interference." This provision targets those who, without the owner's consent, "produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility." Even worse, it targets those who "possess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility." In other words, these Republicans are not only targeting anyone who exposes abuses in these facilities, but anyone who distributes that information (presumably via DVD, or potentially YouTube videos). This is listed as a gross misdemeanor.
2. "Animal facility tampering." This provision targets those who take animals from these facilities. That, of course, is already a crime. But those provision also goes further, and includes "disrupting" the operations of such a facility. This kind of vague, overly broad language has also appeared in federal laws like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. People have a right to know what, exactly, is a crime; vague language like this has a chilling effect on lawful activism, and can be misused by an ambitious prosecutor. This is listed as a felony.
3. "Animal facility fraud." This provision specifically targets undercover investigators and whistleblowers. It targets those who obtain access to an animal facility by "false pretense" (such as a false name on a job application, in order to document abuses). This is listed as a gross misdemeanor.
Law Protects Powerful Vested Interests
It's pretty worrisome stuff. Sure, as long as factory farm operations remain legal, there is a case to be made that photography without the owners permission is invading their privacy and harming commercial interests. But we know for an absolute fact that illegal abuses occur all the time in slaughter houses, factory farms and other animal processing facilities all the time. The efforts of undercover activists are one of the only things that are helping bring this stuff to light.
Most Factory Farm Marketing is "Animal Facility Fraud" Too
Direct action protest is always going to be a tricky subject for the law to deal with. But as Potter points out, overly vague language and sweeping legislation is not going to help. And given the gross imbalance in marketing dollars between the industrial food complex, and those fighting to reform it, activists find themselves in a David and Goliath fight to expose the truth. The only thing that would make me consider supporting such legislation would be a simultaneous ban on marketing images of happy hens on endless pastures as the fraud that it is. If this were combined with a mandate that every producer should include a real picture of conditions on their farm on their packaging, I might just start thinking about respecting their privacy.
More on Animal Activism and Undercover Factory Farm Footage
Hidden Webcam Exposes Factory Farm Cruelty 24 Hours a Day
Shocking Photos Reveal Organic Eggs Don't Always Come from Happy Hens
Hatchery Horrors: Video Reveals No Mercy for Baby Chicks (Video)