NOBULL: Studying the ‘ag-gag’ bill – Keeping consumers in the dark…

Studying the ‘ag-gag’ bill

7 hours ago • JOAN BARRON Star-Tribune Capitol bureau

During the recent legislative session, a bill to make it a crime to photograph or video farm operations without the owner’s consent passed the House but foundered in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Sen. Gerald Geis, R-Worland, the chairman, said House Bill 126, needed to be studied to be sure it did not duplicate or conflict with existing laws.

Geis said the Legislature was passing animal cruelty laws “piecemeal,” which isn’t a good idea.

The Senate committee never took a vote but it was pretty apparent the bill lacked majority support on the five-member committee.

Moreover, the bill sponsored by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, barely made it through the House on a 33-23 roll call vote.

Like many other failed bills, it became part of an interim study.

It is second priority study for the Joint Interim Committee on Agriculture, State and Public Land and Water Resources.

The Wyoming bill was one of a half dozen introduced in state legislatures this year as a push back to the U.S. Humane Society’s undercover investigations of abuses in farming operations, according to national published reports.

One of those undercover investigations was at the pig farm at Wheatland, which resulted in charges filed against several former workers.

The Humane Society has labeled these bills as anti-whistleblower or “ag-gag” for short.

They claim the proposals are an effort to keep consumers in the dark about how their food is produced and the abuses in those operations.

They also claim the bills are part of a national agenda set by the American Legislative and Executive Council.

Wallis said that her bill, House Bill 126, was modeled after legislation that was passed earlier in Iowa and Utah.

The legislation has been picked up by many legislators in other states, she said, because it is addressing “an obvious campaign and ramp up of this devious tactic by the animal rights groups,” Wallis wrote in an email.

If any organization could claim credit for it being picked up and used by many state legislatures it would be State Ag and Rural Leaders (SARL) a national organization, not ALEC, she added.

As for the interim study, Wallis said a review of the animal cruelty laws isn’t a bad thing to do.

“It will give us a chance to address what my bill was trying to address, which was unethical activities of animal rights organization with political agendas and targeting animal businesses,” she said.

The bill dealt with illegal actions, she said, like planting a hidden camera, trespassing and fraudulently gaining access.

Wyoming has better laws than some states, yet there are cases like what happened at the Wheatland pig farm.

The owners, Wallis said, never would have sanctioned the ill treatment of animals if they had known about it. The Humane Society targeted Tyson Foods because of the way the company houses animals.

The Wheatland plant canceled its contract with Tyson as a result of the videos and the report of the undercover investigator, Wallis said.

The Campbell County rancher is critical of all things related to the Humane Society of the United States, from its undercover tactics to its television ads to the way it brings in donations.

She claims the organization’s objective is to drive animal agriculture out of business — “to end all exploitation of animals period.”

“They don’t want livestock to be used and they don’t want pet animals to be bred,” she said in an earlier interview.

Not so, said Joe Maxwell, a HSUS vice president and a pig farmer.

“We’re working very hard to be sure they stay in business,” Maxwell said Friday.

He added that the animal agricultural operations must be transparent.

His organization, he said, also promotes the bond between people and pets and supports responsible breeders but opposes the cruelty of puppy mills.

The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee this summer and fall will decide whether Wallis’ bill with the benign title of “Agricultural Operations,” and derided by critics as the Ag-Gag bill is a good idea.