If you are a farmer in the United States, you are no longer in control of your farming operation. This may come as somewhat of a shock to you since you have to pay the note on your land, building, and machinery debt. You have to pay the property taxes on your farm. You have to manage the details of your operation. You have to stay in compliance with the hundreds of state and federal regulations that apply to your farm. You spend countless hours planting, caring for and harvesting your crops, or caring for your livestock. Yet, despite all this and more, there are a large number of people who consume the food you produce who feel you can’t be trusted to run your farming operation.
That is the message I got while sitting through a hearing at the Indiana Statehouse last week. Over 25 activist, environmental, consumer, labor, and media organizations testified that farmers could not be trusted to run their operations legally, safely, and ethically. Furthermore, these groups felt that state and federal agencies — charged by statute to oversee and regulate agriculture — were also not capable of fulfilling their duties and protecting farm animals from harm, the environment from damage, and the food supply from disease. While this assertion was disturbing enough, what was even more shocking is who these groups felt should be in charge of supervising our farming operations.
The purpose of the hearing was SB 373, which would make it a misdemeanor for an individual to photograph or videotape what happens on a farm without the owner’s permission. In addition, it states that this punishment only occurs if the individual has the intent to harm the relationship between that farm and its customers. The bill further stipulates that, if the individual taking the photos or videos turns them over to the authorities within 48 hours as part of a complaint of animal abuse or other illegal actions, the person will not be charged. Only if the individual obtains the images without permission and releases them to the public with the intent of negatively impacting that operation, would the person be charged.
Leading the charge against this bill is, of course, the Humane Society of the United States, the group that regularly publishes images obtained on farms that allegedly show animal abuse. The Indiana HSUS state director had the audacity to tell the Indiana House Agriculture Committee that “This bill would create a safe haven for animal abuse.” Because, of course, farmers routinely kick, starve, and otherwise abuse their animals when no one is looking. She also threatened the committee with national exposure if they voted in support of the bill.
The Hoosier Environmental Council, Citizens Action Coalition, IN CAFO Watch, and a host of habitual radical malcontents testified that, somehow, by not allowing the unauthorized videotaping of farms by private citizens the safety of our food supply was compromised. Time after time they cited food borne illness statistics and bemoaned the number of people who get sick and die from things like salmonella and e-coli. They never explained, however, how this situation would be improved by allowing undercover videotaping on a few selected farming operations.
Without a doubt, however, the most ludicrous argument made against this bill came from the media. The print and broadcast trade organizations claim that the protection of a farm’s privacy by not allowing unauthorized photos or videotaping is a violation of the first amendment, thereby making the bill unconstitutional. In addition, the General Manager of a television station testified that government and regulatory agencies were “not capable of overseeing farming operations,” thus is was the duty of the media to bring these abuses to light. “We are the 4th estate, that is the important role we play in our society,” he arrogantly postulated.
So who runs your farm? Well, it is not the government because they are simply too overwhelmed and inefficient to do so. That leaves the job up to the media and the activists. Unless you want these clowns running around your operation with cameras and note pads, you need to support efforts to protect your operation from media and activist exploitation.
Farmers do, however, need to address the issue of transparency. There is a natural tendency that when access is denied to think something is being covered up. Farmers need to show the public what actually happens on their farms, but in a controlled manner so the information is accurate, honest, and not sensationalized or used for exploitation. SB373 needs to be adopted to protect farmers from activist exploitation. In addition programs like The Pig Adventure at DeMotte, IN and the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fair will give the public an honest and accurate look into the world of agriculture which produces the food they count on every day.
By Gary Truitt