Our View: There is still time to fix the Ag-Gag bill

February 26, 2014 

The so-called Ag-Gag measure, Senate Bill 1337, which purports to "protect agricultural production facilities from interference by wrongful conduct by providing penalties for such conduct and restitution to an injured agricultural producer," is epic in its overreach and overreaction.

Though it could in fact curtail the efforts of some who trespass or misrepresent themselves so they can film mistreatment of animals, we worry this legislation could have lasting negative effects on the agricultural economy. Plus, it seems like just a matter of time before new technology will come along to allow remote spying on a dairy barn or slaughterhouse that will produce the same results without trespassing.

We have seen the disgusting behavior recorded in a 2012 film that depicts animal abuse at an Idaho dairy. We understand that workers at Bettencourt Dairy were prosecuted and that the dairy now has its own cameras to monitor the behavior of its workforce.

Though SB 1337 already has passed the Senate — and was scheduled to be heard by the House this week (perhaps today) — we would like the Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter to reconsider this bill, factor in possible repercussions and continue all efforts at transparency for consumers before this spirals out of control.

For starters, here are some questions that supporters and opponents should consider:

• Are not existing trespassing laws effective enough?

• How come the authors of SB 1337 are not addressing enhanced penalties or fines for people who hire and neglect to identify animal molesters? When agricultural operations excuse themselves because employees lie and misrepresent who they are (and their backgrounds), that is like admitting they can no longer effectively manage their operations. We suggest they get a better grip on hiring and ferreting out bad people.

• Explain to us how animal rights people can film the kinds of abuse depicted at Bettencourt Dairy and not drop the camera and intervene? What's that about?

• When did trespassing — for whatever reason — become OK?

• When and where do trespassers draw the line for what is acceptable behavior to advance some cause?

If this bill becomes law, we predict a half-life of trouble from this nuclear solution to a conventional problem.

Does anyone think animal rights organizations are going to go away? The threat of a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail (for a misdemeanor charge) is a small price to pay for the kind of national exposure these organizations want and seek.

During or after the trial over a violation at an Idaho "agricultural production facility," who would be surprised if Idaho was besmirched as the "animal cruelty capital of the world," where Black and Blue Cow yogurt is served. At that point it will be too late to un-ring the cowbell.

There is still time for the Idaho dairy industry and other "agricultural production facilities" to reach out to concerned stakeholders to adopt best practices and worker hiring standards for animal husbandry. We know this work is ongoing and we applaud it. There has to be middle ground here.

We believe the majority of Idaho farmers know that treating animals well is a best practice that brings the best results. The problem is, the story about Idaho's wonderful agricultural products will have to fight an Ag-Gag reputation that it can easily avoid.

The message this bill sends is neither good practice nor good business.

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