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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Idaho ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill Would Ban Secret Filming On Farms

In this April 22, 2010 file image from video provided by the United States Humane Society, a Hallmark Meat Packing slaughter plant worker is shown attempting to force a "downed" cow onto its feet by ramming it with the blades of a forklift in Chino, Calif. (Humane Society of the United States via AP)

In this April 22, 2010 file image from video provided by the United States Humane Society, a Hallmark Meat Packing slaughter plant worker is shown attempting to force a “downed” cow onto its feet by ramming it with the blades of a forklift in Chino, Calif. (Humane Society of the United States via AP)

Idaho’s legislature is considering what’s been dubbed the “ag-gag bill” that would impose penalties for trespassing and filming without permission in farming facilities.

What prompted the push is a video by animal activists, showing workers stomping on cows, beating and dragging them at the Bettencourt Dairy in Hansen, Idaho in 2012.

The bill’s sponsor says this video is the work of “agri-terrorists” bent on harming the industry. The activists counter that they’re just exposing animal abuse.

The penalty would be a misdemeanor charge punishable by a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Scott Graf of Boise State Public Radio in Idaho joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.




The Idaho state legislature is close to joining Montana, Utah and Kansas in passing what's called an ag-gag bill. The bill passed in the Idaho State Senate last week, and it's now before a House committee. It would impose penalties for trespassing and filming in agricultural facilities without permission.

Joining us to talk about it is Scott Graf from Boise State Public Radio in Idaho. Hi, Scott.


HOBSON: Well, tell us exactly what this bill would do, first of all.

GRAF: Well, this is a bill that is being brought forth by Idaho's agricultural industry in response to something that happened about a year and a half ago in this state. And what it would do would be to put in place criminal penalties for anybody who misrepresents who they are or what their intentions are in trying to get onto a farm here and ultimately trying to do damage to a farmer's operation.

HOBSON: And when you say something that happened about a year and a half ago, you're talking about a video that was shot by the L.A.-based group Mercy for Animals. It is graphic. Let's take a listen.


HOBSON: Now, what's happening in this is these animal activists have taped workers at a dairy stomping on cows, dragging them, beating them. It happened at the Bettencourt Dairy in Hansen, Idaho. So this video is what sparked all this, Scott.

GRAF: It did, and it was recorded in the summer of 2012, and the group that you just mentioned there, Mercy for Animals out of California, released it in the fall. And it caused immediate uproar both in Idaho and outside. That sound is just - it's awful to hear, and I think it's much worse to even watch. And I think everybody, including the owner of the dairy, just really was sickened was the word that Luis Bettencourt used at the time.

When he heard about it, he said it was very upsetting to him. He immediately fired five workers right after he got wind of the abuse. He assisted with the subsequent investigation. He says he installed cameras to better keep an eye on many some bad-apple employees who might think of doing this in the future.

Three workers were ultimately charged. One pleaded guilty a few months later. And two others were never apprehended. They were not native to the area, and law enforcement officials were never able to catch up with them. But that's the event that's driving this legislation this winter.

HOBSON: But then isn't it like shooting the messenger to go after the people who filmed these abuses rather than changing the rules so people can't abuse their animals like this?

GRAF: Yeah, and the animal rights groups would agree with that. They say that's exactly what's happening here, that they say this is an industry that has over the years proven itself incapable of policing itself, that the industry just can't do an effective job, so it requires groups like it to go in and maybe lie on a job application to be able to gain access to a farm, take in a video recorder and secretly capture these abuses, because it's a way of keeping producers honest.

And on the other side of the issue, you know, the agricultural industry is very upset with this kind of thing, in part because of the false pretenses, but they - when this happens, and groups like Mercy for Animals go into these places, they encourage, once this video becomes public, the suppliers, maybe a cheesemaker, whoever is buying this dairy's cheese, to cut that dairy off and stop doing business with them.

The agricultural industry here in states like Idaho, who want to see legislation like this passed, say that is going a step too far because you're endangering the well-being, the financial well-being, of these men and women who run these dairies.

HOBSON: Well, how big is the industry in Idaho?

GRAF: It's very big. Actually, it's kind of a well-kept secret. I believe last year another state passed Idaho for third on - you know, how big our dairy industry is. Wisconsin is of course first, California is second, and Idaho has been third. I believe we're fourth now. But there is a section of this state that is very much in agricultural country, and there's one particular area that has a lot of dairies.

HOBSON: Well, now that this has reached the state House, it's passed the Senate, as we said, what are people in Idaho feeling about this?

GRAF: It's like a lot of issues here. There is sort of an urban-rural divide on this. I talked this week with the state senator who brought forward this legislation from the farming area of Idaho, and he said that, you know, he's getting a lot of emails complaining about what he has done and the legislation he's put forth. But he said a lot of them are coming from places like Boise, Pocatello, the state's urban areas, also urban areas from outside the state of Idaho.

He said, you know, here on the ground in dairy country, these are small towns. We know the men and women who run these operations, and we know that they're good people, and they do not want to see their animals abused like in the video that we've been discussing.

And it's not a party line issue at all here. It's sort of where you live kind of dictates, in general, where you stand on it.

HOBSON: By the way, Scott, what would the penalties be for people who go in and film things that are happening at these dairies?

GRAF: A person would be fined up to $5,000, and they could spent up to a year in prison if they're convicted of what would be considered a misdemeanor.

HOBSON: Scott Graf at Boise State Public Radio in Idaho. Scott, thanks so much.

GRAF: You're welcome, Jeremy.

HOBSON: And it's a debate that is going on not just in Idaho but in a number of other states. You can weigh in right now at hereandnow.org. What do you think of the ag-gag bill? This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • PoliticsWatcher

    Ah, shooting the messenger. What a fine tradition.

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      Pretty effective too (if you can catch them).

  • PoliticsWatcher

    There is this weird trend in America today of believing that our thoughts change reality. If we don’t know about the animal abuse, then there is no animal abuse. If we believe that global warming is fake, then global warming is fake.


  • IWonderWhy

    If they have nothing to hide, why would they care?

  • ttllrr

    If there was a law proposed to punish those who report child molestation or domestic violence, there would be a deafening public outcry. This should be no different. We should welcome and celebrate those who expose injustice and cruelty towards those among us who are most vulnerable, human or non human.

  • Roberto1194

    This is a clear violation of fundamental Fredom of Speech.
    The legislators and citizens of Idsho should be embarrassed by this
    Senseless political play to placate the reactions of some
    Irresponsible farmers.

  • homebuilding

    I surely hope they include Monsanto flying small planes over any farm they choose to visit–and dropping a small bomb of Round Up, recording the lat/long and coming back to check. If there’s no crop bare spot, the farmer has been using ‘Round Up Ready’ seeds, from either the company or from his own previous crop.

    In the case of the latter, the company WILL prosecute the farmer for theft of it’s patented seed–they have had the law written so that the farmer has to pay Monsanto, even if the seed comes from the farmer’s own grain bins.

    I can assure you that their flyover missions involve zero permission.

    I would equally assure you that these proposed bills offer no inclusion of this intrusion.

    Clearly, this is ag interference without authorization–but who is going to protect the farmer who feeds us?

  • Out future doesn’t look good

    Great way to approach the problem, let’s just stick our heads in the ground! If we don’t know about it we have no responsibility… Ahh, we are educating ourselves into stupidity. Lawmakers getting paid by the AG industry to pass this law is absolutely out of the questions; right?

  • Susan

    I am very upset that this ag-gag bill is being considered. If this passes it will give these farmers an open ticket to behave as they wish. If they were doing nothing wrong they would not have proposed the Ag-gag bill. Is this a no brainer?

    These Farmers do not need protection they need to be responsible and humane

  • Drdiphd

    Mmmm. Maybe it’s time for a prison gag bill. How about a police brutality gag bill? Then a gag bill focused on corruption in banking and the financial institutions. Or more broadly, an omni-gag bill, making it illegal to report any wrong doing by anyone!
    What a country! Laws to protect wrong doing.

  • Valerie

    Their justification for the Ag-Gag is the potential financial impact on Farm/Dairy Owners. Why should we care about this? If animal abuse is occurring, these people do not deserve to make a profit, end of story. However, if abuse is occurring, it deserves to be exposed and their SHOULD be financial impact on those responsible, from the assailants to the owners. Stop hiding from your responsibility. If there is no abuse, you have nothing to worry about morally or financially. I think the whole thing is repulsive and literally sickening. I’m incredibly saddened to know this is probably only a fraction of what’s happening out there. Please answer the question, if the Ag-Gag is enforced, how will abuse then be exposed? This does not solve the problem, it hides it.

  • Dolby5ish

    “Agri-terrorists,” huh? And what’s the term we should use for the people stomping on defenseless animals?

  • Daniel Thomas

    Wow just like Snoden. Instead of dealing with crimes being committed they just make it illegal to shed light on them or prosecute ones who do so. Lol then our rich and powerful point their evil fingers at china and russia and say “they are the bad guys”

  • Lab Lady

    This bill is an example of shooting the messenger, rather than heeding the message. I think it should be defeated. Animal rights groups have a moral duty to uncover/expose cruelty to animals – especially when it involves a profit making enterprise. And, I have no problem with ancillary businesses shunning the offending animal facility. That’s the true price of doing business unethically. Gagging the whistle blowers is unacceptable.

  • Rie

    I totally disagree with the Ag-Gag Bill. These animals are used for human food. They are living creatures with feelings. Cows are very maternal and mourn when their young are taken from them. They also feel pain and suffer just like humans. What kind of person could treat an animal that way? I have no problem inflicting on that person what they did to that animal. If the owners of these farms cannot treat their animals with respect then they should be filmed and exposed.

  • deetee

    It’s good to hear that the _real_ concern is the financial/economic health of the dairy industry in Idaho. Of course, for those people who want “to let the markets work,” and who generally shun “big gubb’mint interference,” this sort of legislation is anathema. Oh Noooooo……! They want to have their cake and eat it too! They want to let the markets _they control_, work.

  • wendy

    Clearly many dairies can’t manage their own employees. I am amazed that people feel their food is wholesome when it may come from abused animals. How is this wholesome? I eat cheese and drink milk, to be honest, I won’t buy these products from any state that creates such laws.

    • Heidi

      Wendy, how about going vegan altogether? This way you would help prevent billions of animals from unspeakable torture and being killed for nothing but an unhealthy snack that also destroys the environment (air, water, and soil).

      • wendy

        Rie, I have attempted to do so, but I don’t get enough calories. I do limit my consumption of animal products and buy as much locally as possible (with the exception of cheese).

  • dawn


  • Jessica Lorraine

    Government: here to punnish people for speaking/showing the truth.

    If we allow laws like this to pass, we will be asking for crimes to increase.

    If people are so concerned about their livelihood and well-being, perhaps they should do the right thing and follow the law. Then nobody would have anything negative to show or say about them.

  • dawn

    seriously, obviously the USDA who we pay to look out for our best interests, is not doing their job. So, it is important to have a watchdog group to do the job of the USDA. If these animals are being treated so inhumanely, imagine the stress in their body before slaughter- imagine the “meat” you are consuming full of stress hormones. How healthy is that do you think. Imagine the horrible end of life for these supposed “happy cows.” The AG-gag bill is WRONG. If this passes, it is obvious that the constituents who influence decision-makers are the ones with the most money. In this case, the agricultural industry.

  • Michael Kealey

    Shame on the whole bunch of farmers who proposed this bill instead of reforming their industry.

  • Gordon

    If the “caring” owners or farm managers really are responsible they know the mentality and treatment their workers are engaging in dealing with their stock. The mentality of abuse starts at the top! Take responsibility and end the fear of the truth.

  • deetee

    …and another thing: I suspect that the large majority of farmers _are_ humane and understand the gift from nature that “lower order” animals are to hu-mans. The California group that did the covert filming should be praised for their efforts as perhaps the farm owner who fired the miscreants should also be. Farm owners might well consider the California covert group as “eyes-on, free security.” The proposed legislation is unwise on many levels, including common sense. It’s the thin end of a bad wedge.

  • Concerned Consumer

    It’s amazing how an legislature feels the best way to deal with animal abuse, is by suppressing the message. While I understand the concern over farmers having individuals falsifying their way into their business, I don’t believe charging video tapers with a crime is the way to curb animal abuse. This seems just as a law to protect the public image of their state. If this law passes, I know I will intentionally stop purchasing dairy products that come from this state.
    Why can’t the legislature focus on a licensing and cooperative enforcement program where mandatory surveillance systems be installed. These are reviewed as part of licensing process. An open door reporting program that provides rewards to individuals who report cases of abuse, and strict prosecution laws that work to curb such activity. Instead it seems clear that the gag law is being paid for by the ag lobby who only wishes to hide their abuses from the public.

  • K Hill

    Cruelty is cruelty – no matter who the target. Silencing those that expose it is like giving a go ahead green light to those that commit these awful acts.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    Very simple. If ANY such bills pass in a state, then consumers should BOYCOTT ALL products from that state and also any tourism to the state. Any such bill would then be repealed in 24 hours, or less. The sponsors of these bills should also get full blame if they have any adverse effects on their economy or on tourism.

    How long would these laws stand if NO ONE bought just potatoes from Idaho anymore (including fast food chains)? Talk about a serious backfire!

    Anti-tourism poster … “Come to Idaho, where you might get to see us do this!!”

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    Instead of this stupid “evidence censorship bill”, the video recording of everything that goes on at a commercial farm should be made mandatory and subject to regular review and even public monitoring.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    People should just start “threatening” to boycott the state, if they go through with this. In addition, many more journalists should volunteer to go into these operations “undercover”, which is entirely permitted if you are a journalist, even under false pretenses, as long as the goal is serve the greater public interest. Even one more case of this would be enough to get any law like this repealed in an instant.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    Everything we do is being recorded and tracked, what makes these farmers so special that what they do should have no oversight, or be protected from public scrutiny. We don’t have any privacy anymore, why should they?

  • Heidi

    There will be a time in the future when people will look back at us in horror and disgust just like we do now when we hear about the heinous crimes of the inquisition, about slavery, cannibalism, genocides and so forth.
    There is a holocaust happening every single day, now, but nobody cares as long as they can sink their teeth into a cheap hamburger.

    “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks they are only animals”. (Theodor Adorno)

    • Katofohio

      Amen! The people who do this to animals do it because they think they can get away with taking out their blood lust on animals cause nobody cares. They would (and some of them do already and some of them will) take it out on fellow humans if they thought they wouldn’t get caught. Humans are the inhumane animal on this planet. We will pay.

  • Jim

    A similar law exists in Iowa. To me, such a law represents transparent corruption on the part of the legislative body that passes it. If you trace the origin of the legislation back to its source you would likely find complains from the collective body representing the industry being ‘spied’ on. This is legislation against the truth, plain and simple. The videos being taken are only documenting real life.

    As for the statement that individuals taking jobs in order to document activities within an organization are doing so under ‘false pretenses’, if the application specifically asks about this, it would be a true statement but would also offer proof that the industry has something to hide. If they do not specifically ask such a question, there are no false pretenses. People usually seek jobs for employment but there is nothing saying that is the only reason to seek a job.

    We vote with our dollars. I found alternative
    sources for the products produced by the chicken confinements behind the legislation
    in Iowa.

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      It has to be an organized boycott to really work though.

  • Tang2000

    Does anyone know how we can get political active in fighting against these bans?

  • Ray

    This proposal is crazy! I personally appreciate when a group exposes things like this. What is wrong with America when the people who are in the wrong can keep the world from knowing what they are doing? The argument that this hurts their business is not even a concern. There is a thing that’s called natural consequences where if you are caught doing something wrong you have to pay the piper. By losing business the owner is getting what he deserves for letting this go on in the first place. Even if they are good people they are still responsible for what happens on their farms.

  • AngryArt

    It’s too bad that the Idaho dairy industry has chosen to close it’s doors to scrutiny rather than improve the conditions of its farms. This says a lot about the farmers and the legislatures who support it. As an Idaho resident this is going to make me think twice about purchasing milk from this state.

  • Katofohio

    This is wrong and will bring those of us in the who support and are active in the US Humane Society and other groups like it out in force.
    According to this story as I understand it, it was proposed because little farmers/cattle ranchers are afraid they will have people filming them in secret? That they would never treat their animals that way and would be sickened if someone treated their animals that way?!?! Then why are they supposedly running scared? They should welcome those who expose the ones who DO treat their animals this way! Give me a break!
    And for God sake, if you are treating your animals right you should be da__ed proud to have the whole world know it on film. Even smile for the camera. If you are afraid of it you are feeling guilty about something and whatever it is you need to change it now!
    And to say the rural type areas in state and across the country are FOR this or any other ‘Ag-Gag’ bill is flat wrong! I am in a rural area, have been all my 65 years except in the Army, and my family and friends have always raised livestock. And I am dead against any Ag-Gag bill of any sort anywhere and will fight against every single one as hard as I can.
    I don’t eat meat often but if I do I want to know it was raised, transported, butchered, processed, packaged and shipped in a healthy and humane manner.
    If you are supporting this bill you are afraid of something because you feel guilty for yourself or for others you know. Search yourself. Search your soul and if you have nothing to be afraid of you will know you have no reason for this bill or any like it.

  • cobirds

    Is agribusiness afraid that the public will be revolted by its business practices? I am certain they are not protecting trade secrets.

  • Shana Galen

    Why do legislatures want to protect criminals? If the farmers have nothing to hide, they should not object to being videotaped. The reporter in Idaho said the congressmen feel the farmers are local boys and good people. If that’s completely true, then the video of the animal abuse wouldn’t exist. And if abuse is happening at one farm, it’s happening at others. If we could trust people to always do the right thing, we wouldn’t need law enforcement. Obviously, the number of videos documenting abuse at farms proves the USDA is not doing its job. Instead of penalizing whistle-blowers, why not pass legislation that protects animals and beefs up enforcement?

  • Tatanka

    The state should be thanking these people for exposing the abuse, prosecuting them.

  • Tatanka

    The state should be thanking these people for exposing the truth, not prosecuting them. one has to wonder who runs the state? Big Ag?

  • Rie

    I would like to comment to Heidi – I so agree with you and have been vegetarian for a long time. I only purchase organic butter and cheese. I think cow milk is to make baby cows grow big fast! I gave up cow milk a long time ago and use soy and almond milk. There are plenty of choices even in fast food – Burger King offers a veggie burger which is pretty good and if you pull up the PDF version of their nutrition stats it is very low in calories and fat!. And since I live on the Gulf Coast I have line caught fish once a month. Bottom line it is healthier to cut out meat ESPECIALLY when the animals are abused and tortured! I do NOT support factory or large farms that CANNOT treat their animals with respect.

  • GreenFairy

    These farms need to take responsibility for their actions, become more transparent, not defensive. This is unacceptable behavior and contrary to what officials keep trying to feed us, it is not at all necessary to raise American meat. What would our great grandfathers say about this system? Those aren’t real farmers, those aren’t real farms…These practices aren’t real solutions. The fact that the legislature is hurrying so hard to cover up their disgusting laziness only says that this is a sad mess…and it’s insulting to anyone with a passion for farming or agriculture, or humanity. I don’t think activists will be deterred from gathering information, perhaps the contrary. But man…it would sure say alot if Idaho stood up and said “No, We’re not going to let our government, or our freedom of press, go into the pockets of big agriculture business.”

  • Raphaella_Quinonez

    Pass this Insidious Bill & I will make every effort to BOYCOTT anything & everything IDAHO…

  • Laura Ousley

    We cannot let this Ag-Gag bill pass. The only reason they wouldn’t want someone filming is if they are doing something wrong. I applaud people brave enough to expose the truth.

  • DC

    Please read this bill. It makes it illegal to use fraud or force to obtain access to a farm. It does NOT prevent anyone from reporting abuse. http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/2014/S1337.pdf

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