A California state lawmaker withdrew a bill Wednesday that would have prevented animal activists from documenting systematic cruelty inflicted upon farm animals.
Unlike in other states, where similar ag-gag bills have been approved or are winding their way through legislatures with little public fanfare, the bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Patterson (R) triggered an outcry of opposition in California.
Patterson’s legislation had been pushed by the California Cattlemen’s Association, a lobbying group that represents ranchers and beef producers. The bill was was disingenuously framed as an effort to clamp down on animal cruelty — kind of a war-is-peace deal, except on animal farms.
The latest version of the legislation, before it was yanked, would have required anybody who filmed or photographed abuse of livestock to turn over the evidence to law enforcement authorities within five days. That was framed as an effort to immediately rectify abuses. Because Patterson and the California Cattlemen’s Association love animals so, so much. In reality, it would have made it almost impossible for animal activists to legally document long-running, systematic patterns of animal abuse; instead they would have been forced to blow their cover every time they filmed a single transgression or else risk being prosecuted and fined.
From an opinion column by Carla Hall in the L.A. Times, after the legislation was withdrawn:
About the only good thing you could say about this ag-gag measure is that it wasn’t as bad as other bills introduced in legislatures across the country. Some outlawed videotaping altogether at animal facilities.
The bill was also opposed by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., which contended that it would have violated the rights of journalists who obtained tapes and recordings made at animal facilities.
Patterson told me when I talked to him last month about his bill that he does care deeply about rooting out animal abuse at slaughterhouses, and that the California Cattlemen’s Assn. does as well. Now that this ill-advised bill is out of the way, Patterson might consider creating other measures that would focus on protecting animals from cruel treatment instead of laws that hamstring people gathering evidence of the cruel treatment.
But there was grimmer news today out of Tennessee, where the Memphis Flyer is reporting that a similar bill was approved by the state House by a single vote. It had already been approved by the Senate. The ag-gag bill will now go to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who is expected to sign it. From Food Safety News:
The one-page Tennessee bill only addresses the reporting requirement. It does not address two other elements often found in “ag-gag” bills — prohibitions on taking photographs or video without the permission of the owner, and penalties for obtaining employment without disclosing motives to investigate for animal abuse.
For a good summary of the various ag-gag bills that have been approved or proposed in states across the U.S., check out this recent piece in Modern Farmer.