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“Ag-Gag” Bill Isn’t Just About Animals

PHOTO: The Idaho House is expected to vote on the so-called "ag-gag" law this week, amid new concerns that it reaches onto public lands. Photo Credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: The Idaho House is expected to vote on the so-called "ag-gag" law this week, amid new concerns that it reaches onto public lands. Photo Credit: Deborah C. Smith.
February 25, 2014

BOISE, Idaho - It's expected the Idaho House will vote on the so-called "ag-gag" bill this week. Much attention has been focused on animal abuse at an Idaho dairy and how secret recordings can hurt agricultural operations.

However, Courtney Washburn, community conservation director, Idaho Conservation League, pointed to other disturbing details in the bill. For example, an "agricultural operation" can be a grazing allotment on public lands.

"We fear that someone could take a photo of an agricultural operation on public land and end up being charged under this bill," Washburn said.

The charge carries jail time and/or fines. She contended that the bill also would discourage reports and/or documentation of environmental violations, because it singles out banning recording of pesticide applications. Prepping land - such as tilling - also is listed as protected from recording without express permission from the farmer.

The bill's backers frame it as a private-property issue, and some proponents claim that organizations are "setting up" the animal-abuse scenarios, or that property was damaged.

Washburn pointed out that when this type of bill has been introduced in other states, it usually has been rejected because of doubts it would stand up in court and animal welfare concerns related to graphic images of abuse. However, she predicted Idaho will see this law make it to the books.

"It would criminalize the whistleblower, and we're concerned that that will deter workers on facilities from making complaints that they witnessed something like groundwater pollution," she said.

A similar law in Utah is being challenged in court. Washburn said the Utah law does not categorize public-lands grazing as an "agricultural operation," while the Idaho version does. Idaho's legislation already has Senate approval.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID