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Dairy industry lobbyists were authors of Idaho's gag law that criminalizes photographing dairy industry abuse of animals


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(NaturalNews) Lots of Americans probably wish they had the power to write their own laws, but few do. Instead, such tasks are left to our elected officials and the monied special interests that control them.

As reported by The Intercept, state legislatures around the country are responding to whistleblowers and activists who are exposing abhorrent and often unsanitary practices at farms by implementing laws that actually criminalize the act of whistleblowing. They accomplish this by making taking photos and videos at agricultural facilities illegal and punishable by fines and jail time.

As you might have guessed, special farming interests are typically behind such legislative efforts. In fact, as noted in emails obtained by the The Intercept via a records request, an "ag-gag" measure passed in Idaho last year was actually written by dairy industry lobbyists and was introduced practically verbatim by state lawmakers.

The Intercept further reported:

State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said he sponsored the bill in response to an activist-filmed undercover video that showed cows at an Idaho plant being beaten by workers, dragged by the neck with chains, and forced to live in pens covered in feces, which activists said made the cows slip, fall and injure themselves. The facility, Bettencourt Dairies, is a major supplier for Burger King and Kraft. The workers who were filmed were fired.

In introducing the bill, Patrick likened those who shot the Bettencourt video to marauding bands of old who burned crops to starve out their enemies.

"This is clear back in the sixth century B.C.," Patrick told Al Jazeera America, according to The Intercept. "This is the way you combat your enemies."

In a separate report regarding the treatment of the Bettencourt cattle, CBS News reported in October 2012 that an "undercover operation" by activist group Mercy For Animals uncovered the "sadistic torture" and abuse. In a description of the video, the group said the workers who were eventually fired were caught "viciously beating and shocking cows and violently twisting their tails in order to deliberately inflict pain."

The state of Idaho is a major dairy production hub. The industry generates some $2.5 billion annually in the state.

Patrick introduced his legislation in February 2014; it advanced quickly through committee within days and was eventually passed by both chambers. It was signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter by the end of the month.

The Intercept noted that the law calls for a year in jail and fines as high as $5,000 for anyone convicted of covertly recording abuses on farms or for those who provide false information on job applications about their ties to animal rights groups or news organizations, ostensibly for the purposes of uncovering abuse.

The investigative news site further noted:

[T]he groundwork was laid by Dan Steenson, a registered lobbyist for the Idaho Dairymen's Association, a trade group for the industry.

Steenson testified in support of the ag-gag bill, clearly disclosing his relationship with the trade group. Emails, however, show that he also helped draft the bill. On January 30, before Sen. Patrick's bill was formally introduced, Steenson emailed Bob Naerebout, another Dairymen lobbyist, and Brian Kane, the assistant chief deputy of the state attorney general's office, with a copy of the legislation.

Chilling whistleblowing threatens public health and safety

"The attached draft incorporates the suggestions you gave us this morning," Steenson wrote, thanking Kane for his help in reviewing the bill.

Kane responded with what he labeled "one minor addition" to the legislation, which he described to Steenson as "your draft."

In the end, the text of the legislation that Steenson emailed was nearly identical to the bill that was signed into law by Otter.

"Dan and the Idaho dairymen had a large input but also Idaho Farm Bureau as well as Idaho-eastern seed growers," Patrick said in an email to The Intercept. "This was not about only dairy so but all of agriculture since all farms have risks of distorted facts." He added that they want the "whole truth" to be told.

Similar "ag-gag" measures have been signed into law in recent years in Utah, Iowa and Missouri; North Carolina might also pass a similar measure soon.

The measure being considered in the Tar Heel state is broader, however. It not only includes farms and agricultural facilities but also other workplaces such as daycare centers and nursing homes.

Critics have charged that such laws chill whistleblowing efforts and can harm public health and safety.





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