State Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, has reintroduced legislation to stop animal rights activists from obtaining photographic records of farming operations in Florida.
After being slammed by legal experts as unconstitutional and dubbed an “Ag Gag” bill – one of several that had been introduced around the country — by animal rights organizations, Norman’s bill ultimately failed to reach the floor during the 2011 legislative session. Similar measures also failed in Iowa, Minnesota and New York.
An interview with the Florida Farm Bureau revealed that Norman had crafted the bill 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, suggested the language of the original bill, which had initially sought to make pictures taken “at or of a farm” a first-degree felony.
Norman initially claimed his bill was designed to thwart the potential for intellectual property theft on Florida’s farms, yet in an interview earlier this year he was unable to offer an example of such an instance. The Farm Bureau acknowledged that the legislation was crafted in an effort to prevent the kinds of high-profile exposes that have tarnished factory farms in recent years and “prevent [animal rights activists] from disrupting our operations.”
Numerous undercover campaigns by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society have resulted in massive fines and food recalls — including the largest beef recall in U.S. history. In 1999, an exposé by the Humane Society resulted in the implementation of humane slaugther and euthanasia laws; video evidence obtained at a dairy farm in Okeechobee County revealed the inappropriate conditions in which calves were being killed.
“Whistleblowers play an important role in our society — exposing waste, fraud and abuse not just in agribusiness but in any industry,” Humane Society spokesman Paul Shapiro told The Florida Independent. “Agribusiness is notoriously secretive because many of its standard industry practices are so extreme, so cruel, that they are out of step with what mainstream American values would demand of our treatment of animals.”
The revived version retains the same language as the original, yet has been tacked onto the end of a larger agricultural bill that also addresses issues relating to stormwater fees, fuel taxes, commercial feeds, and farm equipment.
“Once again, Sen. Norman has sided with the owners of factory farms in Florida to prevent the public from learning how animals are treated inside intensive confinement facilities,” said Animal Rights Foundation of Florida Campaigns Coordinator Nick Atwood in a press release. “The bill also does a disservice to Florida consumers. Recent undercover investigations at farms have led not only to important improvements in the welfare of animals but also in food safety.”