Activists' cameras not welcome in Utah

Mar 30, 2012

Utah joined Iowa in legally telling camera-wielding anti-ag activists they are not welcome. March 20, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 187 into law, making it illegal to film livestock operations without the permission of the owner. Opponents decry the law as an attack on whistleblowers, but agricultural voices praise it as protection against agenda-driven activists.

House Bill 187—now law—defines “agricultural operation interference.” Anyone who takes audio and/or visual recordings of a livestock or farming operation without the knowledge and consent of the owner is guilty of an agricultural operation interference.

The first offense is a misdemeanor, and all subsequent offences are third degree felonies under the new law.

The law applies to anyone bringing recording devices on their person or leaving them on the property. Protected locations and items include “crops, orchards, aquaculture, livestock, poultry, livestock products, or poultry products, and the facilities, equipment, or property used to facilitate the commercial production.”

The Utah law and Iowa’s earlier law were spurred by the trend of agenda-driven activists releasing “undercover” videos. Under the auspices of exposing alleged animal abuse on farms, groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) release heavily edited videos to the media in an effort to damage agricultural operations.

Brent Tanner, executive vice president of Utah Cattlemen’s Association, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it was a sensible protection for ranchers against those with malicious intent.

“We have long felt it is wrong to seek employment with the intent to defame the employer,” he said, referencing an older version of the Utah bill. The current bill has had many revisions since its beginning. One of the first versions was similar to Iowa’s law which makes seeking employment at an animal ag operation under false pretenses a misdemeanor.

One of the big complaints against Utah’s new law— and others like it being proposed around the country— is that it will stifle whistleblowers. Tanner responded by pointing out witnesses of animal abuse who have true concern for animals would report wrongdoing immediately to farm management.

The undercover videos released by HSUS, PETA and other groups are regularly released months after the fact and timed for the largest media impact.

“As ag producers, we intend animals to be treated humanely, but if an individual is concerned [about animal abuse] they need to act immediately. But that is obviously not the intent of these people and groups.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor