Effort to ban farm videos misguided

  • Article by: GREGORY CRUZ
  • Updated: April 22, 2011 - 9:18 AM

Bills would keep bad practices out of sight and out of mind. What are they trying to hide?

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The Minnesota House and Senate Agricultural Committees recently introduced bills (HF1369 and SF1118) that would make it illegal to record photographs and audio/video at an "animal facility."

The authors of the bills would have you believe that producers of Minnesota agricultural animals are having their businesses grossly interfered with by those who would seek to document and expose animal abuse.

They would also have you believe that they require special and far-reaching laws and remedies to deal with their "dilemma."

The bills, as introduced, would make a person guilty of a crime if they took a photo or video at a pet shop, farm or livestock production facility, research facility, puppy or kitten mill, boarding kennel, impoundment, shelter or exhibition (think state or county fair) without the consent of the owner of the animal.

The bills go the extra step to classify equines (horses, donkeys and such) as "agricultural animals" so as to not enjoy broader protection under existing companion animal welfare laws. Cattle, swine, fowl, dogs, cats and various other animals fall under the term "agricultural animals" for the purposes of these bills.

Does this sound reasonable? Obtaining, possessing or distribution of photos or video of varied "animal facilities" should not be a crime. This is not child pornography.

The few antiquated animal welfare laws there are in Minnesota would become virtually unenforceable without the ability of the public to document and share conditions of abuse.

Contrary to public belief, commercial production of animals in Minnesota is an unregulated industry. The only way to deal with animal abuse is to discover it, document it, press charges and hope you prevail in court.

That is impossible to do without photo, audio and video evidence.

There are existing laws regarding breaking in and entry, property damage, and vandalism, and there are remedies related to those issues. These bills are overkill.

They are incredibly vague and far-reaching. If you e-mailed a video or link to a friend online of an "animal facility" without the owner's consent, you would be guilty of breaking the law.

If you worked in a farm, livestock facility, animal shelter or impoundment, pet store, research facility, or animal exhibition and wanted to report wrongdoing and had photo, video or audio evidence to back up your claim, you would be breaking the law.

It is highly doubtful that someone perpetrating animal mistreatment would allow someone to document it.

I understand the agricultural community's concern about prying eyes in their business. I have not heard about transparency disrupting the animal industry in Minnesota.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System and the University of Minnesota just reported that Minnesota animal agricultural producers had one of their most profitable years ever, and that the outlook for their business is favorable.

These bills are simply an opportunistic power grab to conveniently shield animal farmers, puppy and kitten mills, research facilities, livestock auctions and processors, and unscrupulous animal shelters from public scrutiny and transparency.

Out of sight, out of mind. When there are already plenty of laws that adequately deal with property rights, why are legislators going out of their way to make the freedom to share and to document information a crime?

What are they trying to help hide?

Gregory Cruz, of St. Paul, grew up on a farm and is an animal advocate.

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