Sunday, March 20, 2011

U.S. bill would make it illegal to take a picture of a farm

Jenni Dunning
March 15,2011

The days of photographing picturesque farm landscapes will be a thing of the past if a new U.S. bill passes.

The legislation, moved by Florida senator Jim Norman, would make it a felony to take photos or videos of farms without written permission from the owners. The bill does not explain the reasons behind it.

It is a move that has Canadian farming groups scratching their heads.

“We’re going the opposite way of this legislation,” said Crystal Mackay, executive director of Ontario Farm Animal Council.

“We encourage farmers to open their barn doors. We’re here to have a conversation with you.”

A similar bill was put forward in Iowa, but that one focuses on making it illegal for people to shoot undercover videos and gain access to farming facilities under false pretenses.

Proposed penalties include fines of up to US$7,500 and up to five years in prison, according to reports.
The Iowa legislation is in response to animal activist groups, which have released videos taken from inside farming facilities, said Iowa Senator Sandy Greiner.

“They film it to bring a business down, and that individual that’s abusing those animals should be prosecuted as well as the person filming because they’re allowing it to happen without attempting to stop it,” she told Brownfield Ag News.

She reportedly also wanted the bill to apply to county fairs, rodeos and other situations involving livestock.
Neither bill has yet been passed. The Florida bill is proposed to take affect July 1.

The officials who moved the bills could not be reached for comment.

Mackay said the Iowa legislation makes sense in the U.S., where there are some well-funded animal activist groups, but she doubts it would fly in Canada.

It would be difficult to enforce, and there are already rules in place to deter animal abuse – one of the reasons behind the Iowa bill, she said. For example, it is a fireable offence in Canada not to report animal abuse at farming facilities.

These bills are not needed and farms should be more open to consumers, said Stephanie Brown, director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, a group aimed at promoting the welfare of animals raised for food.
“I don’t think we need it at all. It’s a move just to cover up the horrible realities of factory farming,” she said. “What you don’t see, you don’t know.”

She said she hopes Canada does not create similar bills that would ban photography at farms because there is already “a tendency to keep the doors closed.”

Factory farms and the people who work at them are not always very nice, but banning photography there is not the answer, said Sean McGivern, president of the National Farmers Union of Ontario.

“We need to reach out to consumers more and we need to work with people,” he said.

“We’re proud of what we do. If you’re doing things in an open, transparent manner, there shouldn’t be any fear.”

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