Rep. Jim Guest is quick to point out that he doesnt believe
his bill is about banning photographs of animals in facilities in
Its a bio-terrorism bill and bio-security bill,
said Guest, a Republican from District 5 in Missouri, which includes
Cameron. Thats part of the problem we have, everyone keeps
calling it a bill to ban photographs.
The bill Guest sponsors is called HB 666 for the moment. Animal rights
groups and animal lobbying organizations dont think it will
be its own bill for very long. They believe it will be attached to
another piece of legislation in order to push it through the Legislature
before its recess on May 13.
The bill does make it a crime to introduce pathogens or disease into
the food supply. Guest says there are no other laws that address this
issue except trespassing. But animal rights lobbyist are concerned
about other provisions of the bill, which would make it a felony to
photograph an animal production facility without the express written
consent of the owner. The bill also makes it a crime to seek employment
under false pretences.
Animal rights organizations and lobbyist say that the bill is more
about protecting farmers who are not properly taking care of their
animals, including puppy and cat millers. Missouri ranks number one
in the nation for the number of domestic dogs produced.
No one wants to see any terrorism, there is already a felony
statute for bio-terrorism, said Nancy Grove, president of the
board for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, a lobby group
who claims a broad range of support from all facets of animal
Grove added that the bill is aimed mostly at protecting large corporate
farms and domestic animal breeders.
Most anybody can find the blueprints for these large farms
on the Internet, theyre all set up basically the same,
said Grove. Terrorists wouldnt need pictures, this is
a very standardized industry.
Guest, who says he was heavily involved in the pork industry
at one time, said that the bill is also about property rights of private
Ive seen these people take pictures and distort them
make it look like farmers are not treating their animals humanely,
said Guest. How would you like it if someone came onto your
property and took pictures without your knowledge or consent?
Besides, Guest, said, this bill would protect small farms as well.
If someone is allowed to come onto a small dairy farm, for example
and take pictures, they could learn how to contaminate the milk,
Guest said. It would wreak havoc in our livestock industry.
Farms and domestic animal breeding facilities are suppose to be inspected
on a routine basis by both state inspectors and federal inspectors
from the USDA. However, animal rights organizations believe the number
of inspectors is inadequate. There are over 1,000 licensed domestic
pet breeders in Missouri, not counting farms producing animals for
food, for which inspectors are also responsible.
Facilities that are cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act usually
move from written warnings to fines. In one case, a facility near
Springfield had been cited for violations such as not providing adequate
veterinary care and not providing clean, sanitary conditions over
a five-year period. Fines were imposed and repealed and re-introduced
again. The facilitys license was never revoked and five years
after the first documented violation, the fines were never paid.
In the mid 1990s, Marshall Smith, then an inspector for the USDA
filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Washington D.C. for what he considered
inadequate inspections of domestic animal facilities in Missouri.
Smith subsequently lost his job because the USDA cut back the number
of inspectors in Missouri. He went to work for Defense of Animals.
While working for animal rights, he has helped national television
programs enter puppy-milling facilities with hidden cameras.
The USDA is basically just window-dressing. They are so negligent
in doing their jobs about the most effective way to get them to do
something is bring embarrassment to them, he said in a previous
Under this bill, even assisting journalists in undercover investigations
would be considered a crime.
Its tough to draw the line on where journalists should
be able to take pictures, said Guest. Should we allow
them to go into medical research facilities and take pictures? We
are in no way trying to hinder the free press.
The bill would also punish anyone who applies for a job under false
pretences, which animal lobbyists say is directed at animal
rights workers who go under cover to catch animal abuse.
In one such case in 1999, a representative from People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals did that in order to catch animal abuse and neglect
at a puppy mill farm just outside of Topeka, KS.
Hundreds of dogs were documented living in unsanitary conditions in
cages stacked on top of one another, allowing the animals on top to
defecate and urinate on the dogs below.
The abuse included the owner of the farm pulling dogs teeth
without the benefit of anesthesia. Notes and emails were also intercepted
by the worker, documenting a personal relationship between the owners
of the facility and the USDA inspector who was suppose to be in charge
of inspections there. The farm was eventually closed.
Guest contends that his bill is not about allowing people who are
not obeying the Animal Welfare Act get away with anything.
We have legitimate farmers who are very much in support of
this bill, Guest said. When asked why someone who operates a
facility who is not abiding by the Animal Welfare Act wouldnt
support it also, he said, I guess they would too.
Grove said there are trespassing laws that will prosecute those who
are not suppose to be on another persons land. She doesnt
understand why those laws are not sufficient, if this bill is really
Grove said there are also concerns about the wording of the bill.
We dont think you can just make anyone who takes a picture
a felon, said Grove. The way its worded, we cant
be sure that a person wouldnt be prosecuted if they were taking
the picture on the side of the road.
Grove said similar legislation has been introduced for the past three
years. Last year, sponsors of the bill did remove domestic animal
producers from its protection. However, Grove feels that still leaves
farm animals unprotected.
Grove said she believes the bill has a good chance of passing this
year, attached to other more important legislation that
even legislators who oppose the bill will have a hard time voting
against. If it is passed in the Missouri Legislature, she is afraid
Gov. Matt Blunt will sign it.
In the past years, other governors have been more receptive
(to us), but we hope that Gov. Blunt will be more receptive in the
future, said Grove.
Grove said to oppose this legislation, its important to call legislators
to let them know.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at email@example.com