Efforts to protect farmers from animal rights extremists create some interesting discussions, strange bedfellows and of course, self-serving, misleading propaganda. Over the past few weeks, we have reported on several states considering legislation aimed to restrict the ability of activists to clandestinely take photos or videos of alleged animal abuse, which they use to discredit farms and livestock production overall.
One of the more contentious bills, proposed by Florida Senator Jim Norman (R-Tampa), made the news again this week. The original bill would have made it a felony to photograph a farm or farm operations without permission, and its wording seemed to cover any photography — including someone taking scenic roadside shots. News media in Florida this week reported that the Florida Senate’s legislative committee amended the bill, reducing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor and narrowing its scope to cover just those photos taken on farm property without the owner’s consent. Other states including Iowa are considering legislation, also narrower in scope, specifically targeting covert activities.
These proposals have generated discussions and some disagreements among agricultural organizations and producers. Some believe the laws are needed to protect producers from fraud and videos taken out of context or even staged. Others insist the industry needs more transparency, rather than laws implying we have something to hide.
I believe we need both. Producers first, naturally, must assure their houses are in order by employing and documenting best practices for animal care and environmental stewardship, and by training their employees to assure compliance. Then we need more operations to open their gates to the public and the media, to help educate our urban-based society about the realities of food production.
Producers also, however, need protection, and a point that’s often missed is that the issue potentially affects all producers. The article this week in Florida’s American Independent, about the photography bill, presented the issue as one pitting large against small, “organic” versus “factory farming.” And of course, the paper had no problem luring specialty producers to sling mud at conventional agriculture.
The article quotes Tommy Simmons, an organic farmer who raises free-range hogs and cattle near Archer, Fla. He starts by saying farmers shouldn’t have anything to hide, but he doesn’t stop there. Instead, he wraps himself in the holier-than-thou cloak of sustainability, using unsubstantiated claims to imply that the whole problem lies with “industrial farming.”