Bill would ban video of Minn. farming operations

Minnesota has become at least the fourth state to consider legislation that would make it illegal to make audio or video recordings at an animal facility without permission, an industry-led backlash against undercover videos made by animal rights groups that have exposed cases of alleged mistreatment.

Bills were introduced last week in the Minnesota House and Senate. No committee hearings have been scheduled yet.

The bill's chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis for a story published Friday that the bill is "aimed at people who are harassing and sabotaging these operations."

"These people who go undercover aren't being truthful about what they're doing," Magnus said.

Livestock and crop operations, hatcheries, research facilities and kennels are among facilities covered by the bill. Producing video or audio recordings at facilities, or even possessing them, would become illegal.

Animal rights advocates say the proposal would have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers trying to call attention to cases of animal cruelty. Howard Goldman, Minnesota director of the Humane Society of the United States, told KARE-TV of Golden Valley that his organization fears the bill would act as a shield for the entire agricultural industry.

"This bill criminalizes whistle-blowing on any animal facility and that could be whistle-blowing for animal cruelty, which of course is what our principal concern is, but it's so broadly written it would include food safety practices, environmental pollution and labor issues," Howard Goldman, Minnesota director of the Humane Society of the United States, told KARE-TV of Golden Valley.

Minnesota's agriculture industry is pushing the bill.

"We think it would be an important deterrent tool in our toolbox against trespassers," Daryn McBeth, president of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, a trade organization, told the Star Tribune. "You've had these videos shot by fraudulently hired employees, that kind of thing."

Late last year, an investigator sent by the Humane Society into a large turkey hatchery in Willmar captured video images of practices that included workers tossing sick, injured or surplus animals into grinding machines while still alive. A company spokesman said at the time that the video showed acceptable industry practices but acknowledged that some of its employees' actions appeared to violate the company's animal welfare policies.

Similar bills are being considered in Florida, Idaho and Iowa, the Star Tribune reported. Magnus says he got the idea for the legislation after speaking to the Iowa bill's sponsor.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)