SALT LAKE CITY — Filming on farms, ranches and dairies could be prohibited in Utah by a bill moving to the Senate this week, despite concerns that animal abuse will go unreported.
The prohibition is needed because "national propaganda groups" are hiding cameras on agricultural property and using the footage as part of their larger agenda of shutting down the operations, said Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, the sponsor of House Bill 187. The bill, which passed the House 60-14 Friday, would make it a misdemeanor to film on private agricultural property without the owner's consent.
Allowing the groups to continue to film on private property is "akin to a neighborhood watch group that goes into your home and hides cameras because you may one day do something to your kids," Mathis said.
Multiple animal rights groups have launched national campaigns against the bill, which they said will penalize people who uncover animal abuse. Among those groups is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has sent a letter from actress Cloris Leachman to lawmakers.
"Citizens' right to document cruelty to animals_wherever it occurs_is crucial in helping local, state, and federal officials enforce anti-cruelty laws," Leachman wrote in her letter.
The bill will protect businesses to the detriment of animals, said Suzanne McMillan, director of farm animal welfare for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"Bills like this only serve to heighten suspicion that the agricultural industry has something to hide," McMillan said. "Americans deserve to know how their food is produced, and responsible farmers should welcome that transparency."
The proposed law is also overly broad and could limit the ability of whistleblowers to document illegal actions, said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Last year, similar bills failed in Iowa, Florida, New York and Minnesota.
The involvement of national groups will likely hold little sway over Utah lawmakers, however. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who is a cattle rancher, said opponents of the bill want to control agriculture but have no understanding of how hard farmers and ranchers actually work.
"Nobody wants to go slop around in cow manure in the middle of the night or at six in the morning, and they certainly don't want some jackwagon coming in and taking a picture of them," Noel said.