news feature
May 6, 2005

 

Bill seeks to ban photographs of animals
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

State Rep. Jim Guest is quick to point out that he doesn’t believe his bill is about banning photographs of animals in facilities in Missouri.

“It’s a bio-terrorism bill and bio-security bill,” said Guest, a Republican from District 5 in Missouri, which includes Cameron. “That’s 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 don’t 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 loving organizations.”

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, they’re all set up basically the same,” said Grove. “Terrorists wouldn’t 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 landowners.

“I’ve 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 facility’s 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 interview.

Under this bill, even assisting journalists in undercover investigations would be considered a crime.

“It’s 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 dog’s 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 wouldn’t 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 person’s land. She doesn’t understand why those laws are not sufficient, if this bill is really about bio-terrorism.

Grove said there are also concerns about the wording of the bill. “We don’t think you can just make anyone who takes a picture a felon,” said Grove. “The way it’s worded, we can’t be sure that a person wouldn’t 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 fivecoat@kcnet.com



              
              
                 

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