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Farmers push revised ag-gag bill; critics say problems remain

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Members of Indiana’s agricultural community rose up in support Tuesday of a bill that is meant to limit trespassing on farmland during a meeting of the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 101 would create a crime known as “agricultural mischief” and it’s aimed primarily at stopping secret videography and photography of farming operations.

A similar bill, which became known as the "ag-gag" proposal, died on the last day of the 2013 legislative session when lawmakers couldn’t find a compromise on the language.

The committee did not vote Tuesday and plans to discuss the bill again at a meeting next week.

Critics of last year’s bill included media outlets, environmentalists and other public service groups who said the proposed law targeted whistleblowers and limited the ability of the public to report illegal activities seen on Indiana farms.

But Sen. Travis Holdman, R - Markle, who authored SB 101, said this year’s bill is different, in part because it doesn’t specifically address specific acts, such as photography and video. He called it a “good place to settle.”

And Holdman said Indiana law already protects journalists from possible prosecution.

“The Indiana media shield law goes a long way to provide the protection they need,” Holdman said.

SB 101 protect the rights of Indiana farmers – not limit the rights of media and whistleblowers, he said. And Holdman said the goal would be to avoid prosecution of people who take pictures of farm operations with the intent of enforcing Indiana laws.

Representatives from agricultural groups echoed Holdman.

Josh Trenary, executive director of the Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition, said the privacy rights of Hoosier farmers have been ignored in the past.

“Farmers don’t give up property rights just because they’re a farmer,” Trenary said.

Trenary also said farmers deserve to have control over who enters their property and sees their operations. He also added that the agricultural industry isn’t trying to hide illegal activity or animal abuse.

“From our standpoint, all bets are off if it’s illegal activity,” he said.

Trenary said he was also speaking on behalf of the Indiana Farm Bureau and the soybean, poultry, beef cattle, dairy and corn industries in Indiana.

But SB 101 is already facing the same opposing arguments that doomed its predecessor. Erin Huang, Indiana state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said she believes the bill is even worse than last year’s.

“This bill is nothing short of alarming,” Huang said.

Huang said the legislation hinders the public’s right to ask questions and get information on the practices of the farms that produce their food.

“Maybe the activity isn’t illegal at this time, but we need to be able to have that public discourse,” she said.

Huang also said major media outlets such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe have spoken out against similar legislation in other states.

Dan Byron, general counsel to the Indiana Broadcaster’s Association, said he believes the bill is unconstitutional because it “punishes forms of speech.” Byron also said the law is “unconstitutionally vague.”

Byron, like Huang, said he believes the bill could hamper the public’s ability and right to know about farm practices.

“What is the harm? The harm is the public might actually find out what’s going on,” he said.

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  • Ag-gag bill
    Having grown up on a farm, I am familiar with the fact that "unwanted visitors" to farms could create serious problems for the welfare of the animals, whether it is the introduction of disease (See USDA Guidelines for Biosecurity) or harming the animals to produce a video which indicates abuse...such as was done on an Ohio dairy farm. It should be clear to all that these pronouncements made by either ignorant suburbanites or demented animal rights ideologues clearly indicate that there is a bias towards THINKING that farmers are harming their animals...Basically, that is a stupid idea because IF they were harming their animals, they would be REDUCING the income to be derived from those animals, not to mention that it goes against the grain of the entire lifestyle of being a farmer. Do instances of harm happen to farm animals? Yes. Accidents do happen. In fact, the humans working on farms are exposed to potential accidents a lot more than the farm animals are...check out the CDC for further info on that. These AG-GAG bills are important for farmers because they protect their rights, their property and their livelihoods. IF someone wants to know what happens on a farm, GO AND ASK FOR A VISIT! Otherwise, don't keep talking about abuse when you know NOTHING.
  • We aren't trying to hide anything
    We have two swine CAFOs and we are not trying to hide anything from the public. If you come to our door and ask we are more than willing to show you any part of the operation you would like to see. We will answer any questions. We should be protected from people who are intentionally trying to hurt our livelihood. These are family businesses- they aren't run by Monsanto or ADM or any other. It's me, my husband and two hired hands (not illegal...) and that is how all the CAFOs are run in Indiana. We have nothing to hide and that is not the point of the bill.
  • Logic and reason, please
    I am a large scale farmer who comes from a suburban childhood so I feel that I can give a balanced perspective to this discussion. 1. Farmers are the original environmentalists. Ask any farmer, large or small, what their dream is and they will answer to have their family follow in their footsteps and preserve their farm. Whether it is crop farming or animal agriculture we care about our land and animals because this is our legacy. And doesn't everyone want to leave a legacy that their family and friends can be proud of? 2. It still boggles my mind that people think we are in this for the short term gains; that raping the land and pillaging our animals is sound business practice. My future is signed away on bank loans, people. If I don't ensure that my land is taken care of in a way that I can continue to improve it and thus the crops it produces or that my animals are well fed, comfortable, sheltered and stress-free so that they, too, will be as productive as possible then I am sure to go out of business. We do more than is required by federal and state legislation because we want to be here for generations. And that sentiment is shared by the vast majority of farmers both large and small. 3. My farm is my business. My business employs people who I care about. It houses animals that I am responsible for. It has assets that I have invested in and it's where my home is. The law we are talking about here simply states that besides the fact that you are trespassing on my property if you don't have my permission you will further be violating my rights if you cause any "mischief". My farm is not a public park. I need and have the right to know who is on my land (just as a homeowner does) so that I can protect my employees, my animals and my assets. On the other hand, would you like a tour? How about asking first? I guarantee that 99 out of 100 farmers would be delighted to show you around and explain why they do what they do. In fact there are many farms in Indiana that have opened their doors. From large (Fair Oaks Farms Dairy and Pig Adventures) to small (your local blueberry farm), we farmers would love to have you, our consumers, visit. As I've explained to my kids since they were young, it's easy to criticize, to jump on the bandwagon and agree with the majority. To develop your own opinions and thoughts through educating yourself to all sides of an issue is the challenge and the path to wisdom. I'm going to bet that most of you have never visited a farm or had a meaningful conversation with a farmer so my challenge to you is to change that. Educate yourselves and then join the conversation.
  • Ag Gag a Drag
    To Peggy Mayfield: I am a registered Republican and am firmly against the Ag-Gag bill. I will vote against any representative, senator, etc. that promotes or votes for this bill. This will be in the primaries as well as any general election. I will encourage all my friends and business contacts to do the same. I have a dog from a puppy mill in northern Indiana. The cruelty this small animal endured had to be horrendous. Pictures and Videos are the best hope for action. Copy: My Facebook Page
  • Pork
    Josh Trenary, What pork are you hiding? Travis Holdman, Did you receive any of this pork?
  • Illegal workers
    This proposal could simply be to hide the illegal workers on these farms. Farm and agricultural work is one of the #1 areas where unskilled workers from Mexico and other points south come up for work.
  • Factory Farms
    This Bill is ridiculous. Let's continue to keep Hoosiers (and the entire US) fat, dumb, and happy by keeping them oblivious to the welfare of the animals that supply our food. I think we can all agree that Tyson, Monsanto, and ADM don't have us or the animals in mind when they support this Bill. I'm by no means a vegetarian but raising awareness of the deplorable conditions of most factory farmed livestock is the only way for their lives and health to improve, thus improving our own nutrition.
  • Shame!
    Why keep corporate farm operations secret from the public? Because they don't want us to know some things have not changed since Upton Sinclair exposed the horrors of the meat packing industry. Shame on the Ind. Legislature for seriously considering this bill.
  • What are they hiding that they need a bill to protect them?
    Allowing animal factories and farms to be able to do whatever they want without anyone being able to expose their wrong doing is unconstitutional. If they can never be caught because they control who comes in and out of their farm, then who is able to protect our food supply or prevent the horrible abuse that occurs on these farms? This is a crazy law being started for a special interest. This is NOT a law for the people. If it was, people would be able to protect their food supply. Not be banned from finding out about it.
  • Animal Factories
    The operators of animal factories are ashamed of what is going on and want to hide it from consumers. That is the motivation for this bill, pure and simple.

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