April 7, 2011- Two bills have been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that would make it a crime to videotape and to show footage shot inside puppy and kitten mills and factory farms.
Senate File 1118 and House File 1369 would criminalize blowing the whistle on animal cruelty, food safety problems, or labor abuses inside puppy and kitten mills or factory farms by making it a crime to take video inside such facilities, or even for the news media to possess or distribute these images. Read the bills here.
Please take action to oppose these bills today.
While purporting to be targeted at actual interference or damage to farming operations, SF 1118/HF 1369 are worded so broadly that they criminalize videotaping or audio recording of activities inside ‘animal facilities’. An ‘animal facility’ includes farming operations, research facilities, veterinary offices, pounds or shelters, pet stores, and commercial kennels. These bills prohibit ‘animal facility tampering’ (which is already prohibited by state and federal law), ‘animal facility interference’ (defined, in part, as video or audio taping inside a facility without the owner’s consent, and possessing or distributing such videos), and ‘animal facility fraud’ (using false pretenses to gain employment at a facility). Some of the provisions in the bills, such as theft, trespass, and fraud are already crimes under existing law. In addition, the chilling effect this proposed legislation will have, if passed, is detrimental to the public interest in knowing about abuses of animals and consumer product safety violations. The bills also define all equine species, including horses, ponies, mules, jennys, donkeys, and hinnies, as ‘agricultural animals’. Once defined as such, they may not receive the greater protections afforded to ‘companion animals’ under Minnesota’s cruelty statutes.
The bills prohibit usage of one of the most important tools the humane movement has to reduce and prevent animal suffering- undercover investigations that expose animal cruelty and inhumane conditions and practices that go on behind closed doors in Minnesota.
If these bills pass into law, taking undercover footage in Minnesota’s puppy mills, like that captured at Kathy Bauck’s facility by Companion Animal Protection Society, would be a criminal offense, as would taking undercover footage at Minnesota’s slaughter and factory farming facilities, like that taken by the Humane Society of the United States at the Willmar poultry processing facility. Both such videos revealed shockingly inhumane conditions and practices, and in the case of Bauck, led to her conviction for animal torture. Similar legislation has been introduced in Iowa and Florida, following undercover investigations that revealed inhumane conditions and animal suffering there.
Undercover investigations protect the public
The public has an interest in knowing about consumer product safety violations. In states around the country, undercover investigations at farming and slaughter operations have revealed animal husbandry practices and conditions that threaten the safety of the food supply. In California, an undercover investigation there led to the the nation’s largest beef recall in history. In Iowa, where there have been several large egg recalls recently, overcrowded conditions documented by undercover investigators at egg production facilities revealed the risk to the public of egg-borne Salmonella infection.
Who is supporting these bills?
The chief authors of these bills, Representative Rod Hamilton (R, 22B), and Senator Doug Magnus (R, 22) are the Chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, respectively. As Chairs, Hamilton and Magnus have authority to choose which bills they will grant a hearing, and enjoy tremendous influence when it comes to deciding which bills will pass. In the House, the following Representatives have signed on their support: Cornish ; Davids ; Urdahl ; Dettmer ; Anderson, P. ; Drazkowski. In the Senate, the following Senators have signed on to support the bill: Rosen ; Skoe ; Ingebrigtsen ; Sparks.
What are they trying to hide?
The free flow of information and ideas is essential to a free society. Stifling awareness and discussion does not make the problems of an unsafe food supply or of animal cruelty and suffering go away. Legislators should focus on enacting animal welfare reforms, not on hiding what is occurring behind closed doors.
Bills aiming to lessen abuses at Minnesota’s commercial dog and cat breeding facilities have languished for years- currently, unlike most states in the country, there are no state laws regulating this industry in Minnesota. Yet, instead of taking serious steps to address puppy and kitten mill cruelty, some lawmakers are choosing to shield commercial dog and cat breeders from public scrutiny. Minnesota legislators who do not support the Commercial Dog and Cat Breeder Bill insist the humane community use ‘exiting laws’ to regulate the dog and cat breeding industry. How is it possible to use ‘existing law’, which requires finding and documenting inhumane conditions at puppy and kitten mills, if it is made a criminal offense to do an undercover investigation and publish the results?
Responsible agriculture producers should welcome transparency regarding their animal welfare and food safety practices. Agriculture producers are ultimately responsible to the millions of consumers who buy their food, and they should not try to quell public discussion and discourse on these practices.