In 2011 a bill was introduced in Utah by Rep. John Mathis. HB 187 made it a crime to take photos or videos on a farm without prior permission. First offense violations would result in a class A misdemeanor while a second offense would result in a third-degree felony. The bill passed March 2012. Earlier today the first Ag-gag case was dismissed.
|Animal cruelty against cows|
Amy Meyer wanted to see the slaughterhouse for herself. She had heard that anyone passing by could view the animals so she drove to Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City, Utah. When she saw the cows she did what any other person in this smart phone camera age would do, she filmed it.
“A live cow who appeared to be sick or injured being carried away from the building in a tractor,” Meyer told a reporter, “as though she were nothing more than rubble.” The farmer called police. Meyer stated she was on public property when she filmed the cow. The farmer claims she stepped beyond his barbed wire fence. She was free to leave then later found out she was being prosecuted under HB 187.
This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. The legislation is a direct response to a series of shocking investigations by groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing that have led to plant closures, public outrage, and criminal charges against workers.
California’s ag-gag bill recently failed after a massive public backlash. One newspaper editorial said “the cattlemen have committed the worst PR gaffe since New Coke.” The bill was a response to an undercover investigation by the Humane Society that showed “downer” cows, too sick to move, being pushed by tractors (much like what Amy Meyer recorded in Utah). It led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Meat producers are not allowed to use downer cows in their products.
The first ag-gag prosecution should be a warning that these aren’t hypothetical concerns. These bills have one purpose, to keep consumers in the dark. Rather than respond to video footage of animal cruelty with across-the-board reforms, the industry is trying to turn off the cameras.
Today after a huge public out cry charges were dismissed. Meyer gave police her video recordings which proved that she was on public property when she filmed the incident. She did not trespass onto private property. It is legal to film private property if it’s viewable from public property.
This case brings us to my case. I reported Amanda Lollar of Bat World Sanctuary for animal cruelty, neglect, violations of the Health Code, violates of the Animal Welfare Act and violations of Texas Parks & Wildlife regulations. My reports included photo and video evidence which I took with written permission. In retaliation I was frivolously and maliciously sued for defamation and supposedly sharing proprietary and copyrighted data, i.e. the photos and videos.
Reports made to government agencies are privileged. They can never legally be defamation. Of course that won’t keep someone from suing you just to silence you. They generally hope you cannot afford to respond to the lawsuit and will lose by default. If that doesn’t work, they will use their “connections” to make sure you don’t receive a fair trial. I lost at trial and the case is currently in appeal.
Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the USDA. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.
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