Factory Farms: What You Need to Know About Minnesota's Anti-Whistleblower Bill

Apr 15, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
If Minnesota&39;s law passes, images like this will be illegal to obtain without permission. (Photo: CALM Action)

If a new Minnesota bill eventually becomes law, anyone caught going undercover to document animal abuses at a factory farm could be sentenced to 5 years in jail. Here's what you need to know about the bill.

It's a Conflict of Interest

The bill was introduced by six Republicans, including Representative Rod Hamilton, the "past president of the Minnesota Pork Producers, and a current member," according to Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red.

The remaining five Republican supporters are Dean Urdahl, Paul Anderson, Tony Cornish, Greg Davids, and Bob Dettmer. Find the contact information for these men on Greenisthenewred.com.

It Contains Dangerous Language

Potter says three components of the bill are especially dangerous to the rights of whistleblowers.

1.) The law would forbid "animal facility interference." Essentially, anyone who produces a recording of an image or sound occuring at an animal facility—or anyone caught possessing or distributing such content—could be charged with a gross misdemeanor. Presumably, that would include anyone who shared a video on YouTube.

2.) The law would prohibit "animal facility tampering," which means taking an animal from the facility. As Potter explains, "That, of course, is already a crime. But those [sic] provision also goes further, and includes 'disrupting' the operations of such a facility." Such vague language, Potter explains, opens opportunites for aggressive prosecutors to abuse the reach of the law to shut down whistleblowers—who would then be charged with a felony.

3.) The law explicitly targets whistleblowers who commit "animal facility fraud." Anyone who intentionally obtains a job at an animal facility with the intent to document abuses could be charged with a gross misdemeanor.

It's No Coincidence

Anti-whistleblower laws have already passed in Kansas and Montana, and Iowa and Florida are considering simliar bills.

Grist writer Tom Laskawy says it would be nice to think that this spate of new law proposals is a coincidence, but unfortunately the opposite seems true.

"Big Ag, whether through farm groups or individual corporations, has been known to coordinate legislative campaigns state by state," Lawkawy says, noting Monsanto's notorious—and ultimately unsuccessful—push to prohibit labels that tell consumers when milk has artificial hormones added.

It's Big Ag Supported

In addition to addressing the documentation of animal abuses, the Minnesota bill includes language about disrupting "crop operations," a provision which loops in the interests of major crop producers like Monsanto. 

Food Integrity Campaign writer Sarah Damian states that crop operation language would include "Monsanto's seed houses, pesticide manufacturing plants and research facilities throughout Iowa." 

Last week Grist reported that Monsanto has played a heavy role in passing Iowa's anti-whistleblower law by supplying ample lobbying dollars. As Minnesota gears up for its own version of the law, it seems likely Monsanto will have a vested interest.

Writer Sarah Damian points out the irony of wealthy Monsanto's sudden interest in privacy:

That's a bit ironic, however, given the fact that Monsanto investigators are notorious for trespassing on farmers' property and going to extreme measures to produce evidence of seed patent infringement, including posing as land mappers or even joining a local Alcohol Anonymous group to gain the farmers' trust and gain video access to their fields. Talk about undercover.

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