On May 10, 2012, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned, marking the end of the 2011-2012 biennium. Minnesota’s ‘ag-gag’ bill was introduced in April 2011, but did not progress during the biennium. Strong opposition, from many sectors in Minnesota, contributed to the demise of this legislation.
Undercover investigations will not be banned in Minnesota
Thank you to all of you who contacted your Minnesota legislators in opposition to the ag-gag bill!
May 10, 2012- The bills that would make it a crime to videotape and to show footage shot inside puppy and kitten mills and factory farms (SF 1118/HF 1369) were introduced in April 2011. The bills encountered stiff opposition from the media, the public, and many animal advocacy organizations, and did not advance during the 2011-2012 biennium.
Bills similar to the one introduced in Minnesota have been introduced in states around the country (and passed in Iowa and Utah). This underscores the need for vigilance in Minnesota. If you have not yet, please take the time to let your state legislators know you oppose this type of legislation: Sign the online petition to keep humane undercover investigations legal in Minnesota.
Sparboe and Christensen Farms Investigations
In 2012, animal advocacy organization Mercy for Animals released an undercover video taken at a major Minnesota hog producer, Christensen Farms, heating up a growing national debate over housing conditions for pregnant pigs.The video’s release coincided with one of Christensen’s major customers, Costco, telling its suppliers to phase out gestation crates by 2022.
In 2011, Minnesota- based egg producer Sparboe Farms was the subject of an undercover investigation. Mercy for Animals’ investigation at several Sparboe farms in MN, IA, and CO, revealed unsanitary conditions and animal welfare concerns that prompted two responses.
First, companies, including McDonald’s, Target, Lunds, Byerly’s, and Sams’ Club, severed their relationship with the supplier, thereby improving upon the safety of the food they were selling to consumers. Second, Sparboe Farms was prompted to conduct internal reviews and initiate worker trainings with the intention of improving animal welfare at its facilities.
These investigations offer a local and important reminder of the importance of undercover investigations. These investigations help protect the safety of the food supply and the welfare of animals, and should not be made illegal.
Kathy Bauck Investigation
The Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) has done extensive investigation, including undercover investigation, into the owner and operator of Pick of the Litter in Minnesota, Kathy Bauck. As a result of their undercover investigation in spring 2008, which showed sick, wounded, emaciated and dying dogs, a jury convicted Bauck in 2009 of animal cruelty and torture. In 2011 the United States Department of Agriculture permanently revoked her federal license.
The Bauck investigation is an example of how undercover investigations in Minnesota have exposed cruelty to animals that otherwise may have remained hidden. It reinforces the case that these types of investigations play a crucial role in protecting animal welfare, and should not be made illegal.
What is the ag-gag bill?
Senate File 1118 and House File 1369, also called Minnesota’s ‘ag-gag’ bills, would criminalize blowing the whistle on animal cruelty, food safety problems, or labor or environmental 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.
Language in the bills
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, horse barns, 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. Read the language in the bills here.
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.
Here is a list of instances where undercover investigations at animal facilities have led to food recalls, exposure of unsanitary conditions, facility closures, cruelty convictions, and changes in the law.
Undercover investigations protect animals
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.
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 ; Anderson, P. ; Drazkowski, ; Doepke. In the Senate, the following Senators have signed on to support the bill: Skoe ; Ingebrigtsen ; Sparks.
What are they wanting 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- 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.