Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, works in human resources at Christensen Farms, the subject of an undercover video released this week that appears to show sick pigs abused and neglected at a farm in Luverne, Minn.
Hamilton, who chairs the House Agriculture Finance Committee, sponsored legislation in 2011 to make it illegal to gain employment or access to animal facilities under “false pretenses,” or to record videos such as the one about Christensen Farms. Critics referred to it as an “ag gag” bill.
Violators, including journalists having or distributing recordings, would have faced a year in jail, $3,000 in fines and restitution charges.
The bill died, but in seven other states similar legislation has become law. A federal judge struck down an Idaho measure this month as unconstitutional, writing, “The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply.”
Hamilton, who began as a herdsman at Christensen 23 years ago, has not introduced the bill in subsequent legislative sessions, but he defended the idea.
The sixth-term legislator said it’s wrong to win employment or go on someone’s property under false pretense, as undercover investigators do to record their videos.
Chris DeRose, president of Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals, which is the group that recorded and released the video, likened his group’s actions to entering a home to prevent child abuse. “You mean we don’t have a right to go in there? Breaking into a house is illegal. But when you go in and expose the atrocities, it needs to be done.”
Christensen suspended seven employees and is conducting an investigation of the alleged mistreatment of animals, the company said this week.
In a statement Wednesday, CEO Glenn Stolt said, “We strongly support legislation that protects the health and welfare of our animals. Whether it is one of our employees, or an individual with a hidden camera, it is critically important that any signs of animal abuse or neglect are reported immediately … No animal should ever be left to suffer for any reason.”
Hamilton, who said he was not speaking for the company, said the actions of a few should not reflect on the entire industry. The recent outbreak of avian flu, he said, showed the importance of biosecurity — safety precautions to prevent the spread of diseases.
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incidents at Christensen Farms.
Star Tribune staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.