By Brett Ader
A bill filed by state Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, would make photographing farms without the written consent of the owner a first-degree felony in Florida. Senate Bill 1246, simply titled “Farms,” has caused a stir among animal-advocacy groups for comparing a potential whistleblower who might expose the realities of factory farming — or even a tourist snapping a photograph of cows grazing in a field — with those who commit murder or armed robbery.
“This bill is particularly outrageous, and frankly Sen. Norman should be ashamed of himself for even introducing a bill like this,” says Jeff Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (aka PETA).
The language of the bill, which is very brief, notes that video or photographic records taken “at or of a farm” would become illegal, and the guilty party could face the same penalties as a violent criminal — including a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
“It’s beyond ridiculous, blatantly unconstitutional and clearly designed to protect animal abusers,” Kerr says. “He should be introducing bills to require cameras be in slaughterhouses and animal-raising facilities so the abusers can be identified and prosecuted, not protected behind closed doors.”
There are currently no mechanisms in place to monitor animal welfare on Florida’s farms, with inspections focusing on the food itself, not the conditions of the animals. Organizations such as PETA and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida contend Norman drafted the legislation in response to a number of high-profile exposés that revealed horrific conditions on farms around the country, and worry that without whistleblowers the industry will operate with impunity.
“Whistleblowers play an important role in our society — exposing waste, fraud and abuse not just in agribusiness but in any industry,” Humane Society of the United States spokesman Paul Shapiro says. ”Agribusiness is notoriously secretive because many of its standard industry practices are so extreme, so cruel, that they are out of step with what mainstream American values would demand of our treatment of animals.”
Even within the agribusiness community itself, internal discussion has emerged about the merits of Norman’s legislation.
The editor of CattleNetwork.com, a website affiliated with the nation’s oldest monthly livestock magazine Drovers, recently authored a piece questioning the logic Norman’s bill, asserting that such “extreme” measures give the impression that the industry has something to hide…