Senate Bill 1337 aims to protect Idaho's farmers from groups intending to do harm to their businesses
Over the past two weeks, supporters from various Idaho agricultural sectors explained the need for the agriculture security legislation to the Senate and House Agricultural Affairs Committees. Idaho farmers live and work spread out across the land where they are uniquely vulnerable to increasing threats to their safety and security.
Idaho's dairy industry has a legacy of caring for their animals and the land and ensuring that the dairy products they produce are safe and nutritious. "Let me be clear: dairy farmers do not condone abuse-- plain and simple" stated Idaho Dairymen's Association President (IDA), Tony VanderHulst. Adding "The dairy farmer who fell victim to the activist group is well-known for his unquestioned compassion for his animals. He is a true steward of his cows, his land and his community. To see him be persecuted in the public eye for an issue that everyone agrees has been corrected shows the true and clear motivation of these activist groups".
Opponents of SB 1337 who participate in or condone this type of conduct call it an "Ag-gag" bill, to mislead people into believing that the bill will enable Idaho farmers to hide animal cruelty. Testimony before the Senate and House Agricultural Affairs committees has clearly demonstrated that SB 1337 does not prohibit lawful reporting, investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty. There is a hotline at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to immediately report any abuse or perceived abuse. This hotline can be anonymous if the caller chooses.
Opponents of SB 1337 assert that their interest in exposing animal cruelty overrides farmers' constitutionally protected private property and privacy rights. They argue that anyone entering an agricultural facility should be allowed to enter and record the conduct of the facility's operations without the facility owner's consent. This position stands in stark contrast to the Idaho legislature's enactment of a law just last year that prohibits the use of aerial "drones" to record a person's activities without the person's written consent.
Activist groups seeking to block SB1337 haven't told the whole story. Here are the facts:
- An activist group's employee, masquerading as an investigator, infiltrated one of Idaho's dairies for 19 days.
- The infiltrator took no action to report or prevent the mistreatment of the dairy owner's animals at any point during that entire time
- After the infiltrator left the dairy, the activist group sat on the evidence for 4 days before reporting the mistreatment to authorities for investigation.
- Upon finally learning of the mistreatment, the dairy owner immediately terminated all employees associated with the unforgivable acts.
- The dairy farmer cooperated fully and actively with authorities, and implemented procedures to ensure that no further mistreatment occurs at his facilities. After the investigation was complete and arrest warrants were issued, the activist group sat on their evidence for another 45 days before they began their media campaign to prosecute the innocent dairy owner in the court of public opinion.
Despite their acknowledgement that the dairy owner was innocent of any wrongdoing and took appropriate corrective action, activist groups are waging yet another media campaign to attack the dairy owner and the dairy industry by misleading their supporters, and the public, into believing another incident of mistreatment has occurred. An agricultural Affairs Committee member who supports the bill appropriately summarized how the activist group has crossed the line, by stating the following in her weekly legislative update. "By releasing the footage to the internet, with petitions calling for a boycott of products of any company that bought meat or milk from Bettencourt Dairy, the organizations involved then crossed the ethical line for me. The goal of changing behavior then became ruining a business".
On January 21st of this year, Idaho's HSUS state director sent a letter to the dairy owner prior to SB1337 being introduced confirming the continuing objective of the media campaign to impugn the reputations of dairy farmers, this time as leverage against introduction of SB 1337: "I urge you to work with your fellow Idaho dairy operators (whose reputations could similarly be harmed if this footage were re-aired time and again)." To the Idaho dairy industry the message was clear said Bob Naerebout Executive Director of IDA "do as we demand or we will hurt you and your fellow producer, SB 1337 was introduced because of very threats like this".
Every one of the more than 500 dairy farm families in Idaho practices compassionate animal husbandry and does not condone any sort of abuse towards their animals. The farmers take immediate action when they learn of any mistreatment and do not want to hire anyone that doesn't have the animals' welfare always at the top of their mind.