Do Farmers Have A Point About Animal Activists And Their Cameras?

The so-called "ag gag" law passed by the slimmest-possible margin in the Tennessee legislature. Gov. Bill Haslam is waiting on an opinion from the state's Attorney General before signing or vetoing the bill. Credit: dgroth/Flickr

The so-called “ag gag” law passed by the slimmest-possible margin in the Tennessee legislature. Gov. Bill Haslam is waiting on an opinion from the state’s Attorney General before signing or vetoing the bill. Credit: dgroth/Flickr

Governor Bill Haslam has been getting an earful from animal rights groups demanding that he veto what they’ve dubbed the “ag gag bill.” The agriculture industry has been largely drowned out, even while working behind the scenes to win the governor’s approval.

“Our agriculture producer numbers aren’t as high,” says Lou Nave, executive director of Farm Animal Care Coalition of Tennessee. “But we’ve encouraged them to make any effort they can to tell our story.

Farmers feel like they’ve been made out to be the bad guys, Nave says. She explains that they don’t want someone to be able to follow them around for months undercover and then splice together a three-minute video with ominous music making them look like an abuser.

“There are things that we do to our livestock – whether it’s vaccinating against diseases or weaning the offspring when its time – it could be noisy, it could be construed as less than humane,” Nave says.

The yet-unsigned law would require animal activists to turn over footage of livestock abuse within 48 hours. It’s directed squarely at the Humane Society of the United States, which has made big splashes with undercover investigations in recent years.

The HSUS says 11 such laws have been introduced in legislatures around the country. Only Tennessee has passed this particular version, though other big agriculture states such as Iowa and Missouri have approved measures limiting the ability of activists to get onto farms.

Shared Motives

The farmers say they are just as concerned about stopping livestock cruelty as the animal rights groups they demonize. They just believe it needs to be done by police.

“This bill just says put your money where your mouth is,” says hog farmer Brandon Whitt of Batey Farms in Rutherford County. “If you’re really out to end animal abuse, then by George, let’s do it on the very first case.”

Whitt questions the motives of the Humane Society, suggesting the organization simply uses undercover video for fundraising purposes, with an ultimate goal “to end animal agriculture.”

Organizations like the HSUS say law enforcement authorities are too busy to chase animal abuse tips one at a time. They respond to documented evidence of a pattern, like footage of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer that led to a federal conviction last year.

“No one who is conducting agriculture in a proper way and exhibiting best-practices in animal husbandry has a thing to worry about,” says HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle. “It’s only people who are worried that they are cutting corners morally or legally.”

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