Some Covert Farm Investigations Now A Crime

Under some circumstances, undercover investigations of farms in Iowa will now be considered a crime.

On March 2, Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad signed legislation into law that will see gaining access to farms and agricultural operations under false pretenses being considered fraud, punishable by fines and/or jail time.

Agricultural Production Facility Fraud, also referred to as the “Ag Gag Bill” will also find a person is guilty if the person makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility and intends to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.

Such acts could include the filming of operations.

For the first conviction, a serious misdemeanor will be recorded. For a second or subsequent conviction, an aggravated misdemeanor. 

In recent years, undercover videos of the treatment of livestock and other abuses have shocked consumers; resulting in protests that have rocked industries. 

I remember a recent incident here in Australia that saw the suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia; which polarized the community. The incidents recorded didn’t occur on a farm, but to Australian cattle in the slaughterhouses of another nation. Aussie farmers copped some of the resulting backlash; with claims by some they were complicit as they had knowledge of the practices. However, the reaction I saw, heard or read from many farmers was one of disgust.

Some videos from covert operations have been triggers for positive change in how animals are treated – and that is an incredibly good thing.

But there is a danger. 

I spend a good deal of my time in grazing/feedlot country and see both sides to the thorny issue of covert investigations by activists. 

I have taken photos of sheep in a condition that would make you gag. In my area I have come across sheep that were still alive and mobile, but smelled like they had been dead for weeks. Some of these walking corpses had their faces half chewed away by tumors or their rears consumed by maggots to the point bone is visible. How they managed to keep upright is beyond me.

These incidents, in my opinion, were likely not mistreatment or neglect by farmers. Warm and fuzzies aside, sheep are worth big money over here at the moment and any farmer allowing his or her livestock to wind up in such a condition would be not only be incredibly cruel, but totally insane.

These sheep have probably simply escaped from the paddocks they were in and then walked aimlessly in dry country, then began succumbing to the conditions in some instances. In other cases, they may have been on their last legs when finding their way into another property. I have discovered such sheep on my land; which previous to my acquisition was a grazing property. 

Another scenario where properties are very large is where a few sheep may stray from the flock and wind up lost on the property, rejoining the flock when they are about to keel over. This is apparent when you see the good condition of the vast majority of the flock.

However, it’s not a good look and those photos, in the wrong hands, could be used to demonize farmers. These are legally gained images as I wasn’t physically on the properties when they were taken, or they were taken on my own property, or in roadside scrub around the area.

Where images and videos are taken as a result of covert investigations by people gaining access to farms through deception, it’s not impossible that in some cases the disturbing imagery is of isolated incidents. 

Stuff, unfortunately and tragic as it is, happens in any industry. That a few animals are not properly handled by an ignorant or incompetent employee (or through plain bad luck) or an animal is in poor health is not necessarily indicative of the farmer’s overall approach to his or her animals.

In my opinion, the Iowa law should have been further refined – prosecution of these “fraudsters” should only apply to situations where the operations are *not* guilty of intentional abuse. 

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know if this has been flagged elsewhere, but my concern is if someone is found guilty under the Ag Gag Bill, then the evidence they may have gathered might not be admissible in a cruelty related court case. Farmers who engage in the conscious and calculated mistreatment of their animals, flagrant herbicide abuse etc; should not be shielded by any such law. 

However, farmers who do their utmost in terms of how they treat their livestock or generally run their operations should be able to operate without fear of harassment by misguided activists – and those farmers deserve the protection that such a law provides.
Such refinements may also help ensure activists decide whom to investigate very carefully before launching a covert operation.

Food production needs to change and with it our demands in terms of diet – but farmers should be treated as friends and allies in this process rather than foes. After all, they are the ones putting food on our tables.

Reducing meat consumption