A federal judge has struck down the “agriculture operation interference” law which was approved in 2012 by the Utah legislature. What is also known as the “ag-gag” law, prohibited lying to gain access to a livestock operation. The law also required permission from the property owner for anyone who wanted to film. Legal experts are looking at ways for those in the agriculture industry and animal rights activists to find a compromise.
Brandon Willis, a professor of applied economics at Utah State University and senior advisor to former secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack, said the vast majority of farmers and ranchers would welcome visitors to their operations.
“When people are so many generations removed from agriculture, I think there are certain things that are part of farm life that might be a little bit upsetting to them,” Willis said. “The videos thus far are abusive things mostly in a commercial type setting, not actually down on the ranch.”
Willis said most of the cases of animal welfare come from meat packing plants, but the blame is often put on the entire meat production industry. He said when cases of animal abuse surface, it is something that farmers and ranchers would also find inappropriate.
There is a law in Missouri that may prove to be a successful compromise for Utah. Willis said the current law in the state of Missouri allows undercover filming of agriculture operations, but all the footage has to be turned into authorities within 24 hours. That way anything illegal is stopped right away.
“It also prevents filming for months at a time and then only putting small snippets together of only the most egregious behavior and providing the public really a one-sided view,” Willis said. “I reached out to the National Ag Law Center there in Arkansas they did think that there is merit in how Missouri did it. They thought that if any could withstand the scrutiny of potential violation of the first amendment right they felt the Missouri law probably could do that.”
Willis said if the law is successfully struck down or a compromise is made like the law in Missouri, it most likely won’t have an effect on the average farmer or rancher.
“I think most ranchers would welcome the opportunity to bring them on their operation and explain it,” Willis said. “Most people, whether they’re from the city or if they’re from the country, they may not agree perfectly on issues but I think there’s an understanding. I think there could be a good profitable discussion on why we have to do things the way we do them.”