Missouri could become the third state this year to impose criminal sanctions, including jail time, against the practices animal welfare groups have used to expose both animal agriculture cruelty and food safety violations.
In a 124-29 vote, Missouri’s lower house adopted a House Bill 1860 amended to include a section on “Agricultural Production Facility Fraud” with the same sort of ag-gag provisions that were signed into law in Iowa and Utah earlier this year.
If the state Senate agrees before it adjourns May 12, Missouri’s new agricultural crimes will be production “facility fraud” and “interference.”
Anyone recording the image or sound at an ag production facility without the consent of the owner could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Conviction of a Class A misdemeanor carries a jail term of up to one year and a $1,000 fine or both.
Repeat offenders will be charged with Class D felonies, with convictions carrying up to four years in state prison and fines of up to $5,000 or twice the offender’s gain up to $20,000.
Anyone who makes false statements on a job application to gain access to an ag production facility could be charged with production facility fraud, a Class B misdemeanor. Conviction means up to six months in jail and a $500 fine or both.
Missouri’s ag-gag bill is more broadly written than Iowa’s or Utah’s in a number of ways. For example, it gives Missouri prosecutors plenty of leeway for charging anyone around the edges of the crime.
“Anyone who aids, abets, acts in concert, or otherwise participates directly or indirectly, in the commission of the crime is guilty of the crime,” HB 1860 says. “Anyone who conspires to commit the crime is subject to the provisions of the law regarding conspiracy.”
The top leaders in animals welfare groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals, are often involved in whistleblower campaigns to expose conditions inside large-scale animal facilities.
If someone on the inside of such factory farms is not available to work with them as a true whistleblower, it is not uncommon for animal welfare groups to recruit volunteers to hire on and then photograph or videotape what’s happening inside.
Ag-gag laws are drafted specifically to make this model for gaining entry to farms either impossible or risky. Because the animal welfare groups usually target facilities where they already suspect animal cruelty is occurring, it’s unlikely they are going to give up attempting to expose what also is criminal behavior.
Missouri’s General Assembly is controlled by Republicans, but Gov. Jay Nixon is a Democrat. Governors who signed ag-gag bills in Iowa and Utah were both Republicans, meaning for HB 1860 to become law it would have to become the first signed by a Democratic governor.
Nixon’s position on farm photography/video bans is not known.
Ag-gag bills remain alive, at least technically, in the Minnesota and New York legislatures. Twenty years ago, similar ag-gag bills were adopted in Kansas, North Dakota and Montana.
Image by the Humane Society of the United States