Utah Bill Would Make Videotaping a Factory Farm the Same as Assaulting a
by Will Potter on February 17, 2012
in Terrorism Legislation
Groups like Compassion Over Killing are targeted under this bill for
exposing animal welfare abuses.
Utah is the latest state to consider new laws targeting
undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory
farms. A new bill would make photographing animal abuse on par with
assaulting a police officer.
Rep. John Mathis calls undercover investigators "animal rights
terrorists," and says video recordings that have brought
national attention to systemic animal welfare abuses are
"propaganda" and fundraising efforts.
targets anyone who videotapes or takes photograph on a farmer's
property without permission. It creates the crime of "agricultural
operation interference," a class A misdemeanor which is elevated to
a third-degree felony on the second offense.
It comes at at
time when the FBI has
considered "terrorism" charges against undercover investigators.
opening remarks at a hearing by the Utah House Law Enforcement
and Criminal Justice Committee on February 14th are indicative of
the good ol' boy network that is attempting to pass this
"It's fun to see my good ag friends in this
committee," Mathis said. "… all my good friends are here."
Mathis, the sponsor of the bill, said animal protection groups are
solely using their investigations as "propaganda" efforts for
fundraising drives. He went on to claim that animal welfare reforms,
such as allowing chickens to spread their wings, are actually
"detrimental to the welfare of animals."
abuse is hurting animal welfare? Photography is terrorism? What
Mathis leaves out is that these investigations have led to criminal
charges against farm workers. Just this week, undercover video shot
Mercy for Animals at a Butterball farm resulted in six workers
being charged with misdemeanors and felonies.
And a recent
investigation by Compassion Over Killing (in Iowa, another state
considering "Ag Gag" legislation) showed workers pushing herniated
intestines back inside injured piglets, then
covering the wound
Only token gestures of opposition were made
during the hearing, such as one representative voicing concerns that
the bill could target people who take "pretty barn pictures."
But this bill isn't about pretty pictures.
This bill, and
similar attempts in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York, is to
criminalize anyone who exposes abuses on factory farms.
disproportionate penalties are solely motivated by the corporate
interests affected by animal welfare reforms. As Rep. Craig Frank, a
Republican, noted: this bill makes taking a photograph of a factory
farm in Utah a third-degree felony on the second offense, the same
as assaulting a police officer.
He called it a "Blank Angus Ops"
bill and questioned the need for new laws when trespassing is
already a crime, but outside of making jokes he and the others on
the committee offered no opposition.
In light of the recent
criminal charges and systemic animal welfare violations, it's
startling to hear Mathis and supporters say the bill is the same as
punishing someone who leaves a video recorder "under you and your
This isn't about personal privacy.
corporations attempting to hide their criminal activity, deceive
consumers, and deflect public scrutiny onto those who are dragging
these abuses into the sunlight.
The committee voted 10-3 to
move the measure as originally written to the full House. You can
representatives about HB 187 here.