March 3, 2014

Question of the Week: Is there any legitimate justification for Idaho’s new ag-gag law?

SheepBy the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

On Friday, Idaho Governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law the latest of the so-called “ag-gag” bills that have been floating through state legislatures over the past few years.  This makes Idaho the seventh state in the nation (along with Iowa, Utah, Missouri, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas) to in some form go after individuals who go undercover at industrial farms for the stated purpose of exposing animal abuse and other violations.  Under Idaho’s new law, anyone caught secretly filming or taping agricultural operations within the state can face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Ironically, the new law was prompted by a clandestine video the animal rights group Mercy for Animals released showing horrific abuse of cows at Idaho’s Bettencourt Dairies, one of the largest dairy companies in the country.  Once the video became public, Bettencourt fired the employees responsible, with one of them ultimately being charged with and convicted for animal abuse.  Despite Bettencourt’s prompt response, however, there apparently was an active campaign to stop people from buying the company’s products, and the company’s owner was supposedly even targeted with death threats.

Proponents of the new ag-gag law point to these acts of retribution as exactly why the new legislation is so important.  According to Bob Naerebout, who heads the Idaho Dairymen’s Association that promoted the bill, the purpose is “not to hide anything [but] to address those who get on agriculture operations under false pretenses, with a predetermination to cause injury and economic harm.”  Idaho Senator Jim Patrick echoed this concern saying the new law brings relief to farmers around the state.  “There are so many things that these groups don’t like.  We feel like any one of us could be a target,” he said.

Of course, opponents of the new law have a very different view.  They see it as a not-so-veiled attempt to keep hidden what goes on inside factory farms.  Nathan Runkle, Mercy for Animals Executive Director, says “not only will this ag-gag law perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply.”

Where do you stand on this newest ag-gag legislation to hit the books?  Regardless of whether you ultimately disagree with the law, do you believe there is any legitimate justification to support its enactment?

Is there any legitimate justification for Idaho’s new ag-gag law?

    Please let us know why in the comment section below.  

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    5 Responses to “Question of the Week: Is there any legitimate justification for Idaho’s new ag-gag law?

    1. I see no reasonable justification for the Idaho law. If the individuals going undercover are really up to no good by simply trying to stir up trouble to suit an activist cause (rather than trying to uncover serious abuse or misconduct), there are other laws with which to go after them. The only conceivable purpose in the Idaho law is to make sure what goes on in the factory farm, stays in the factory farm, no matter how it affects our food supply or the animals that support it.

    2. I did a quick search for legislative history. The Idaho Legislature has a reasonably good Web site. What I found about S1298 did not include much information about the purpose of the law, besides “The purpose of this legislation is to protect agricultural production facilities from interference by wrongful conduct by providing penalties for such conduct and restitution to an injured agricultural producer.”

      I agree with Parsons, there are other laws and torts that make this law seem unnecessary given the lack of explanation from the legislative history.

    3. If farms and slaughterhouses have nothing to hide, why are so many states on the defense with pushing to implement new laws to protect them? They don’t need to be protected, the animals do–and that is exactly what COK, Mercy for Animals and other animal advocates are trying to do. This is BS and just an absurdity. They obviously have something to hide.

    4. There is no justification for this law — it is merely an attempt to keep animal abuse hidden and we should not stand for it.

    5. These ag-gag laws are criminal. The USDA does NOT enforce the Humane Slaughtering Act, it is just a “suggestion,” just as the Constitution is being treated. These slimy politicians are lying, bought-off crooks, no better than the Mob. They passed a law calling all animal welfare advocates “terrorists.” Unless PETA shows up and drives a plane through the slaughterhouse, these bottom-feeding politicians can take their “terrorist” claim and shove it.