Idaho on Friday became the first state in two years to pass a bill aimed at stopping filming at farms and dairy producers. The bill, which animal rights activists often refer to as an “ag gag” bill, was created in response to undercover animal rights activists exposing animal abuse at one of Idaho’s largest dairy operations 2012.
The bill was signed into law by Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter on Friday.
The measure passed Idaho’s Senate earlier in February to the applause of agricultural representatives who said it would help ensure farmers’ right to privacy. But animal rights groups say the measure will have a chilling effect on investigations that attempt to expose wrongdoing on Idaho’s farms.
“Gov. Otter has decided to keep corrupt factory farming practices from the public. He’s created a safe haven for animal abuse,” said Matt Rice, the director of investigations at Mercy for Animals, the group that made the 2012 video that sparked Idaho’s ag-gag debate. “These are facilities that supply food to the entire country. No other industry has the kind of immunity.”
The legislation carries a sentence of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for people who secretly enter and record agricultural operations. It also criminalizes falsifying documents like resumes in order to get hired on a farm.
“We’re extremely pleased that the bill passed,” said Bob Naerebout, director Idaho Dairymen’s Association. “Even though there was a lot of negative ads run on this bill, and even though the bill was misrepresented (by animal rights groups), Idaho’s legislators were able to see through that.”
Debate about laws governing filming on farms in Idaho started in 2012 when someone hired by Mercy for Animals got a job at a Bettencourt Dairies operation in Hansen and filmed workers caning, beating and sexually abusing cows.
The video was used to prosecute employees at the dairy, and it convinced Idaho’s dairy industry to create a worker training program to help prevent animal abuse. But it also set in motion a concerted effort by the dairy industry to make sure such embarrassing videos weren’t made in the state again.
So-called ag-gag bills have had trouble making their way through legislatures recently. Fifteen were introduced in 11 states last year, but none of them were signed into law. Two bills have also been defeated in Indiana and New Hampshire so far this year.
Idaho now joins Iowa, Utah and Missouri as the fourth state to have a bill making it illegal to film on farms.
Arizona and Tennessee are currently considering similar bills, and some are concerned that Idaho’s bill will embolden legislators and the agricultural industry in those states, and elsewhere.
“One case doesn’t make a trend, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me that the industry continues to try,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society. “It’s now clearer than ever that the dairy industry will stop at nothing to hide its record of animal cruelty.”