Animal cruelty vs. ag rights debated at state capitol

9:32 AM, Apr 12, 2011   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There is concern brewing over two bills being introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate. The measures would make it illegal to make audio or video recordings at any animal facility without permission.

"We think transparency is critical," said the Minnesota Director of the National Humane Society, Howard Goldman.

Goldman's organization has long used undercover videos to root out wrong-doings in the agriculture industry. Videos that cover issues from animal abuse to public health issues.

"There were convictions, many of these plants were closed and in some cases new legislation was proposed," said Goldman.

The new legislation being proposed here, however, would make those videos illegal.

"I think for the small percentages of animals that are hurt or kept improperly doesn't justify the need to come on someone's property and violate the trespass law. We feel very strongly about that," said Minnesota Representative Tony Cornish.

The Republican legislator is a co-author of House File 1369. The bill is considered an anti-tampering measure and would apply to everything from farms and slaughter houses to kennels, pounds and shelters.

"I have a hard time with people that go out and find the instances, narrowly define them, and then find some animal in trouble, and flash it all over the media, this one thing, and make it look like it happens everywhere. I have a real problem with that and that's what we're trying to control here with this bill," said Rep. Cornish.

The Humane Society, however, says the bill will 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," said Howard Goldman.

Those in favor of the bill insist there would still be a system of checks and balances.

"We don't need pictures, " said Cornish. "We just need someone to tell us what's going on and we go there and check it out ourselves."

Opponents say that is simply not enough to stop cruel and unsafe practices from happening.

Those against the measure will have time to speak out as the bill moves through several committees before coming before the entire house.

The measure, as it stands now, would also make it illegal for the media to use the images captured. That has some people raising 1st Amendment questions.

A similar bill in the Senate is working its way through committee.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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