With food safety and traceability one of the biggest concerns in the industry in 2014, it's sort of ironic that some states and governmental leaders continue to bury their head in the sand. Yesterday the Idaho House of Representatives passed Senate bill 1337, referred as the agricultural production interference act, making Idaho the fourth state in two years to adopt a so-called “ag-gag” bill as state law with the expected signature of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
The “ag-gag’ label is shorthand for a bill that silences whistleblowers, whether they actually go undercover or are a regular employee who just wants to collect evidence of wrongdoing.?
S. 1337 also contains an emergency clause, meaning that it will take effect immediately upon being signed into law by Otter. He has five days to act once the bill is physically delivered to his desk, a task that falls upon the Senate as the originator of the bill.
The “agricultural production interference” act contains at least two provisions fitting the definition of an “ag-gag” law. First, anyone who misrepresents himself or herself in obtaining employment in agricultural production could face charges. Second, anyone who records a video or takes picture in a facility not open to the public could also be charged with a misdemeanor. S. 1337 does not appear to change the timeline for reporting instances of animal abuse, which can be a third “ag-gag” legal element.
The Idaho bill was introduced at the behest of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, which quickly rallied support for it from the state’s entire agriculture community.
Idaho’s $2.4-billion dairy industry was stung by a 2012 undercover investigation by a contractor employed by the Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals, a nongovernmental organization. Five hourly employees of the dairy involved were convicted of misdemeanor animal abuse. The dairy fired the five employees, and two of the five fled Idaho’s jurisdiction.
State Rep. Linden Bateman (R-Idaho Falls) referred to those making the videos as “extreme activists who want to contrive issues simply to bring in the donations.” But State Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) charged that bill proponents just wanted to “imprison the people who criticize you.”
If the governor signs the bill, it will be remembered for its speed since it only took four days from introduction to passage in the Senate, and nine days from delivery to passage in the House.
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