A state House criminal justice committee unanimously voted for an amendment today that would strike the controversial “Ag Gag” measure from an omnibus agriculture bill.
Earlier this week, the bill was temporarily postponed in a Senate committee over concerns raised about a measure that 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 passed, the bill 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.
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.”
“Simpson, who is currently running for the Florida Senate,” Ader reported, “suggested the language of the original bill, which had initially sought to make pictures taken ‘at or of a farm’ a first-degree felony.”
The bill’s house sponsor, state Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, called the controversial provision a way of preventing “industrial espionage” during the bill’s committee stop two weeks ago. He said he wanted to stop people who are allowed to go on farms such as business and professional regulation services, police officers, government employees, engineers, land surveyors and insurers from coming in “under false pretenses” and taking pictures.
However, animal rights groups and others warned that the bill could stop the flow of important information about food production when law enforcement and government agencies miss something during inspections.
“What are we hiding?” Laura Bevan, of the Humane Society of the United States, asked the Senate committee. “What does agriculture have to hide? This is basically slamming the doors and saying, ‘What happens on the farm stays on the farm.’”
There was no debate among members today over removing the controversial language.