The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) are both applauding the Florida Legislature for throwing out a measure that would make it a crime for someone to take pictures on a farm without the owner’s permission.

The measure, which animal rights activists call an “Ag Gag,” would prevent the release of information (photos, video, etc.) obtained by “whistleblowing employees and undercover investigations.” The information, in the past, has included exposés documenting “animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems,” according to one group.

If the bill would have been passed it would have made taking pictures or recording images of “a farm or farm operation … without the prior written consent of the farm’s owner or the owner’s authorized representative” a crime.

Yesterday a state House criminal justice committee unanimously voted for an amendment that would strike the “Ag Gag” from an omnibus agriculture bill. Earlier this week, the bill was also temporarily postponed in a Senate committee because of the same measure.

The ASPCA said in a statement yesterday:

“Bills like this only serve to heighten suspicion that the agricultural industry has something to hide,” said Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA farm animal welfare campaign. “Americans deserve to know how their food is produced, and responsible farmers should welcome that transparency. Where there are problems, industry should direct its energy toward resolving them, not covering them up.”

Under Florida’s proposed ag-gag provisions, employees and others who sought to expose not only animal abuse but other criminal conduct on farms including sexual harassment, worker and environmental violations, would have been risking misdemeanor charges of the first degree, punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

“Legislators carefully examined the bills, listened to the concerns raised by thousands of their constituents and ultimately took the correct action,” added Ann Church, vice president of state affairs for the ASPCA.  “We are hopeful that Florida, a state with very significant agricultural interests, will serve as a bellwether for other states where similarly draconian legislation is being considered and lawmakers continue to balk at the myriad assaults these bills would deliver to American values.”

Laura Bevan of the Humane Society urged lawmakers in states with similar bills pending “to follow Florida’s lead and reject” them.

“If passed, Section 6 of SB 1184/HB 1021, would have outlawed the act of photographing or videotaping abusive, unsanitary or otherwise dangerous or illegal activity on a farm,” Bevan said in a statement yesterday. “Even employees and journalists taking photos or video to document misconduct on farms —including animal abuse, worker safety violations, sexual harassment or embezzlement—could have faced criminal prosecution and imprisonment under Section 6.”

As The Florida Independent’s Brett Ader previously reported, the bill had been crafted “at the behest of Wilton Simpson of Pasco County, where Simpson Farms produces 21 million eggs annually for Florida’s second-largest egg seller, Tampa Farm Service.”

Last year, Florida was among four states that introduced “Ag Gag” legislation. None passed.

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