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Missouri May Be Moving Forward With ‘Ag-Gag’

A Missouri Senate committee will hear and likely recommend approval of House Bill 1860, the so-called ag-gag bill the lower chamber already approved on a 124-29 vote.  

chickenHSUS-350.jpg

If that happens, HB 1860 will get a final up or down vote on the floor of the Missouri Senate, possibly before the end of the week.

Sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, who chairs the House Agribusiness Committee, HB 1860 started out as an obscure bill dealing with changes involving grain dealers and vocational education.

But then came amendments Guernsey apparently planned all along to add language making new criminal law. As it left the House, the bill would create two new “agricultural crimes” in Missouri. They are:

Agricultural Production Facility Fraud:  Anyone gaining access to an agriculture facility under false pretenses or by using a falsified employment application, and anyone who helps them, can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

– Agricultural Production Facility Interference:   Anyone who records the image or sound of an agricultural operation without the permission of the owner or who distributes the pictures and sound can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. The same charge can be brought against anyone who remains on agricultural premises after being told the area is not open to the public.

The one-two punch of these laws is intended to prevent animal rights groups from gaining access to agricultural facilities to document animal abuse.

A Class A misdemeanor in Missouri carries penalties of up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000. A Class B misdemeanor can fetch up to six months in jail and fine amounts up to $500.  Missouri’s proposed law makes a repeat offense a Class D felony, a crime that can mean four years in jail and fines up to $5,000.

When an undercover animal rights investigation comes away with evidence it is not unusual for local prosecutors to file animal cruelty charges, and sometimes much more. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducted an undercover investigation that shut down a Chino, CA slaughterhouse, which had a big contract for supplying the National School Lunch Program with ground beef.

In some cases, food safety has been improved by undercover animal cruelty investigations.   The Chino facility was forcing non-ambulatory, or “downer,” cows to slaughter using fork lifts.  Animals in such stress are more likely to carry disease.

The Missouri Senate’s Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee has HB 1860 scheduled as one of four bills it will take up Wednesday morning. Republicans control the agricultural committee, 5-2.  

The majority members all have strong ties to Missouri’s powerful farm lobby.  A few examples:

– Chairman Brian Munzlinger, a farmer and farm educator, is a member of Missouri’s Farm Bureau, Corn Growers Association, Soybean Association and Cattlemen’s Association.

– Sen. Michael L. Parson, cattleman from the Bolivar area, is a member of Missouri’s Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association.

– Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla veterinarian, is a member of the Missouri Farmers Association.

– Sen. Chuck Purgason, from West Plains, is founder and owner of  the Ozark Wings  hatchery and game preserve. He is a four-time winner of the Farm Bureau’s Friend of Agriculture award.

– Sen. Bill Stouffer, the Saline County farmer, is a member of both the Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Soybean Association.

Iowa and Utah passed ag-gag laws earlier this year largely because the main farm groups in those states lobbied hard for them and when they moved it made things happen quickly. Such an effort might now be underway in Missouri.

Still, the clock is running down on the 2012 Missouri General Assembly and political disputes over the state’s $24 billion budget and the future of its judiciary are sure to eat up time.   Adjournment is just two weeks ago.

That’s why observers think that if ag-gag is going to the floor for a vote it’s more likely to happen in the next week than closer to the May 18 adjournment.

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HSUS image of confined chickens


© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    This proposed legislation is well reasoned and well structured. Skulking scab activists can still do their slimy gotcha thing — they just get some additional notoriety with the misdemeanor charges, that’s all. No serious impediment to maliciously smearing an ag facility if one is truly committed, none at all. Instead of tagging this set of laws “ag-gag” maybe “scab-grab” would be more accurate.

  • JK

    Is there anything we can do to stop this legislation from passing? I think it is very important for farms to have an open door policy and that all can see how they are treating their animals and operating their business. What do they have to hide?

  • Alex

    Farms can still have an “open door policy” if they choose. Some will choose to invite the public in and others will choose to prosecute prowlers & trespassers. Just like any other business. Banks don’t have an “open door policy” for their vaults, auto repair shops don’t have an “open door policy” to the shop floor, funeral directors don’t have an “open door policy” to the mortuary lab, restaurants don’t have an “open door policy” to their kitchens…and all for perfectly legitimate reasons — not to hide anything so much as simply to get their work done.

  • carolyn

    Like Factory Farms and Mad Cow..the activists get to label issues with their derogatory claims…This is a farm protection bill. Protecting my biosecurity from someone who has snuck into half a dozen other farms, carrying bacteria and viruses on their clothes.
    Alex makes a good point, you don’t walk into a restaurant kitchen or a grocery store cutting room, pillsbury’s factory – they do more processing on our food than we do… i can guarantee that most consumers don’t really want to see the slaughter process. When consumers dictate how animals will be raised will be the beginning of the end of humane care and the end of animal agriculture. PETA had the stupidity to claim on the last gotcha video that artificial insemination was inhumane. The reality is they just want to end all use of all animal products, medical research, pets, everything.

  • Chef Roger Gafner

    There is nothing wrong with an open door policy–if there is nothing to hide. Having operated several restaurants with an open door policy where any customer could look in our pantry, walk-in, food prep areas and cooking line, the public appreciated our policy. That is correct Alex; it is an excellent policy because we had nothing to hide. We can and do get our work done with customers watching. We enjoyed the highest ratings from the Health Department; in fact, they dined on a regular basis. That is called trust, something that is earned not obfuscated by laws restricting the publics’ interest in food safety by paid off politicians. Yet another step backwards, I guess if we do not see it, we can assume everything is sanitary, workers are not abused and livestock is treated humanely. Unfortunately, history tells a different story.

  • paul

    Any US citizen has the right to see, hear, record sound and images, and distribute ANY legally collected, unalterred, truthful information obtained from a public place, including the air. The ACLU or any citizen wishing to defend his right to tell the truth, will trounce upon the enforcement of this proposed law. This is still a free country, even in Missouri.
    Mr. Guernsey should go to another country if he doesn’t like America.

  • Old Mac

    Farms are “public places”? Like national parks…oh wait, those have rules and off-limits places. OK, maybe like airports…oh wait, last time I went through one of those they made me take my shoes off and treated me like a criminal. Farms are NOT public places. Maybe your home is a public place? Surely it would be OK if I barged in, went poking around? How about hiring me to clean your pool so I can snoop in your closets and home office? That shouldn’t be a problem, right? You know, I think I don’t care for the way you live and work so I will invite myself into your home and business and do whatever I can to scandalize you. That would actually be helping you, right? It would be an invaluable community service, right? Since when have farms ever been public places? Maybe you’ve been to one too many petting zoos?

  • We have a significant CAFO presence in Missouri, and there’s a lot of money behind these CAFOs. If you want to know where this bill came from, follow the money.
    These people don’t want any exposure of their deep, dark, and extremely dirty operations. They claim they want to “educate” people about farming, but what they really want to do is hide behind foolish laws that will end up challenged in court, while spinning a fairy tale about farming.
    There are decent livestock farms in Missour, but they’ll be tarred with the same brush as the CAFOs when people ask: what do the farmers in Missouri have to hide? To the point of putting out a law that is guaranteed to be challenged in court, and guaranteed to be found Unconstitutional.
    We have foolish legislators in Missouri. They don’t care about the people in the state. They certainly don’t care about consumers. All they care about is all that money they get from the CAFOs.

  • Bruce P.

    Farmers deserve as much protection from trespassing vandals as anyone else. This law doesn’t have teeth enough. Great-grandad used to run unwanted snooping visitors off the place at the point of a shotgun. He wasn’t hiding anything…he was protecting everything his family had worked so hard to earn. That’s not to say on any given day a prying activist couldn’t have photographed an embarrassing moment or two there on the old home place. What could possibly be more disruptive to routine daily chores (and threatening to safety) than having devious butt-in-skis randomly forcing their way into production areas for the purpose of wreaking havoc? Need a modern example? Just let me on your computer for an hour or so to check up on the quality and wholesomeness of your activities, maybe ripoff and publish a few odds and ends on the internet. If you have nothing to hide you should welcome my snooping and evidence gathering! Hey, it would be only an hour or so at random intervals.

  • Bruce P, your great-grandfather didn’t stuff 20,000 chickens into a barn, or cram pigs into crates so small they can’t move. He also didn’t shoot his cows full of hormones and antibiotics. So let’s leave off the play on nostalgia, OK?
    And your analogies might be pertinent if I were creating foodstuffs for sell in my home. Let me assure you, I’m not.
    This isn’t about privacy, this is about the people’s right to know how the food we eat comes to our plates. We have a right to know if animals are mistreated–not the least of which, mistreatment is almost invariably matched with food safety and quality issues.
    We have a right to know if the meat processing plants skips steps or use procedures or chemicals or processes. We have a right to be informed–not the canned fairy tales the big agribusiness companies want to put out, the actual facts.
    Missouri _is_ the Show Me state. Well, evidently to some people in the state (and I’ve, unfortunately, had problems with them in the past), they don’t want us to know anything except what they tell us.
    Tough.
    The problem with this law is that it is a direct attack against whistleblowers–people with business on the farm providing filmed evidence of the farm’s atrocious activities.
    In particular, the Missouri bill goes farther than other bills and the very actions they include make it especially vulnerable to Constitutional challenge.
    http://www.animallawcoalition.com/animals-and-politics/article/1954
    If this bill passes, it will be challenged. If it is challenged, it will be tossed. The state will have to waste taxpayer money defending an act brought about solely to protect a few major players in the meat industry.
    Missouri farmers: what do you have to hide?

  • Old Mac

    This bill doesn’t interfere with legitimate whistleblowers. It does obviously give malicious agenda-driven stalkers a moment’s pause…fulfilling the very intent of this law. Farmers have every right to a peaceful enjoyment of their homes and privately held businesses (even in Missouri!), just like any other American. We have nothing to hide and will welcome any constitutional challenge. Shelly’s baseless blanket charges of filth, wrongdoing and atrocities are absurd, as are her claims to boundless rights to “know” this, that and the other as a pretense to trespass, entrap and defame us. Obviously Shelly doesn’t “know” her elbow from you-know-what. Big difference between knowing and believing. Even bigger difference between knowing and deliberately spreading misinformation. This proposed law is a good start toward assisting the recovery of certain afflicted individuals who seem to believe their personal entitlements are limitless.

  • Old Mac, all the farm needs to say is the whistleblower who exposed farm activities accepted the job under false pretenses.
    Now who is going to want to risk being charged with a crime in this type of circumstance?
    Mr. Marler is the lawyer around here, I’m not, but something about “prior restraint” rings a bell.
    And what if we got Dateline here to do a story on a CAFO? They use undercover operatives all the time. Can you imagine the case in court if a Dateline journalist takes a job to expose operations at a CAFO and then Dateline publishes the video online? According to this law, the journalist, the producers at Dateline, and the entire network would be subject to arrest.
    Can you even see how this would go in court? A news organization, while attempting to do what it should do–expose bad business practices that can adversely impact on consumers– is arrested by Missouri police for doing the news.
    Did these legislators even once run this little scenario through their venal little minds?
    I made a promise to myself to be less stringent in my comments here at Food Safety, and I must now apologize to the publication, but I can’t hold to this promise when it comes to this law…
    This is the most idiotic bill from a legislature that is becoming infamous for idiotic bills. It deliberately hides large farms from the public view at the exact same time some of the people listed in this article are creating a web site devoted to, they say, “educating the public” about Missouri farm practices.
    They are clueless as to the contradiction in their actions, or the fact that on the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog–everyone knows exactly what the CAFOs and the agribusiness folks are trying to do. And hide.
    All this bill says is that rather than clean up their act, these big livestock producers plan on maintaining the status quo, or even getting worse, and then hiding behind laws brought about by some of their buddies in the legislature.
    This is the message they’re sending.
    If they pass this law, it will be challenged. It will fail.

  • Uh, make that “strident”. I promised myself to be less _strident_ in comments.
    I hope to always be stringent…

  • Old Mac

    Imagine it — a brave Dateline undercover scab successfully railroads a farm, then is charged with…wait for it…a misdemeanor! Yep, that would be the certain end of a brilliant career of lying and sneaking around for sensational stories. What’s the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor? The chair? Life without parole? Try 2 weekends community service. If that much, Jesus, what a drama queen!

  • Old Mac
    I did respond to you, but my comment hasn’t shown up.
    I don’t know if it was because it violated some unwritten comment guidelines. I don’t know if it’s just because it hasn’t been approved yet.
    I do know this is the second time someone has responded towards me in a derogatory manner and I wasn’t able to respond back because my comment wasn’t published.
    So I would respond to you, but I’m dependent on the powers that be at this site and whatever mood they’re in, in any particular time.

  • Cyndy M.

    Shelly,
    I am with you on this matter. Personally, would the people who own and run the CAFO’s put their children, wife, or themselves in the same environment as these poor animals? I would LOVE to see their children and one of their friends stuffed (and I do mean stuffed) into little crates or cages where these kids eventually start to beat and tear each other up. Oh, yeah, and then we can watch them as they get respiratory disease from all the fumes they produce from their own excrement. These ag-gag laws would just be the beginning. These people should all be shipped to another planet!

  • Big Mac

    I’ve got a farm here in Missouri, and I will fight this ag-gag bill to the last. Any family farmer that supports this bill is a fool, and is aiding his mortal enemy, big-ag. Big money doesn’t give a s— for the little guy, so why support them in this attack on your freedom of speech? Are you so happy that they ruined the small pig-farmer’s market, or is it that wonderful smell that their lagoons give off that makes you jump on their bandwagon to destroy yourself? Maybe it’s all the Mexicans that came here to work in these factories, get to practice your Spanish much? If so, just keep protecting big ag’s profits, at your expense.
    I’ll work with the devil himself to fight this. The people have a right to know about their food, where it comes from, cleanliness standards, and how the animals are treated while alive. The Jews have had kosher standards for 2,000+ years, why shouldn’t we have the same rights?