No More Undercover Documentation
On March 17, the Iowa House passed a bill that bans videos, photographs, and other unapproved recordings to be taken in facilities that maintain animals. If Iowa Bill SF431 is passed by the state senate, Iowa agribusinesses will be shielded from independent observation from the public and animal rights activists.
Although the bill specifically refers to factory farms, its language also protects research facilities, nurseries, warehouses, and other places where food is produced and stored from unapproved observation.
First time violators found guilty of recording without permission in these places will receive an aggravated misdemeanor and repeat offenders will receive a class D felony, which includes a maximum of five years prison sentence and $7,500 fine. A similar bill is being considered in Florida.
Several secretly recorded videos at factory farms over the last few years have resulted in public outcries and government involvement.
Undercover footage of failed hog slaughters and other abuse at a Bayard hog farm showed employees violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to a degree that the USDA investigated.
Pictures of manure heaps and piles of dead chickens from the the Iowa Egg farms involved in the recent egg recall were used during their hearing with the House Energy and Commerce committee.
The largest beef recall in US history was in response to a video taken in 2008 by the Humane Society at a California slaughterhouse where sick and crippled cows were prodded with electric prods so that they would stand long enough to be considered safe for human consumption. Some of this meat was sold to school lunch programs.
Those against the bill, notably animal-rights organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), say it is too overreaching and removes vital industry transparency that keeps food safe and humane:
HF 589 and SF 431 are designed to shroud factory farming in secrecy; they will deprive animals of their already minimal legal protections and hide from the public the truth about what happens behind the closed doors of factory farms.
Beyond animal rights, opponents say the bill would remove consumers' ability to independently monitor what goes into their food, especially because these rules apply to crops and warehouses as well. They say that if the food industry has nothing to hide they shouldn't fear observation.
Because of the broad wording of where it will be illegal to take video, audio recordings, and photographs, opponents worry that it will restrict investigations of abuse in pet stores and puppy mills, too.
Additionally, those against the bill say it encroaches on freedom of speech. "The problem is that it targets the speech elements, rather than the conduct elements, of what the animal rights folks are doing" says Ian Bartrum, a law professor at Drake University. "If these folks are trespassing on private property, there's already an appropriate legal remedy for that conduct."
Supporters Make Their Voices Heard, Too
Iowa farmers and agribusiness lobbyists say the law is needed to protect their facilities. This is a pressing issue for many Iowans because Iowa is one of the country's largest hog and animal product producers.
Representative Dan Muhlbauer, a farmer and Democrat from Manilla, Iowa, says the farmers are already giving the best and most efficient care possible to the animals. "If you're neglecting the animals, it comes back to economics - you're losing money. There's a very small margin and the economics keep you on the straight." He also argues that videos of happenings at farms may seem worse than they are if they aren't properly explained.
Maynard Hogperg from Iowa State University's animal science department agrees. "It's too easy to film things that are out of context. People with agendas stage certain things, and that's not the truth."
Other supports of the bill note that the it will protect animals from staged abuse, specifically citing that those who take the video often do so over many weeks before publishing their work. PETA retorts that many days of footage must be collected or the company under review will argue that the offense was an isolated incident.
- Iowa Senate File 431 (The Iowa Legislature)
- Bills ban undercover recordings at animal facilities (Des Moines Register)
- Agriculture whistleblowers targeted in proposed bill (The Iowa Independent)