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California lawmaker withdraws bill on undercover filming

Ag gag law withdrawn in California, although Tennesee advances its own measure.

A California assembly member who had introduced legislation that would limit undercover investigations at livestock and poultry farms and processing plants withdrew his measure on April 17. 

The bill, introduced by Jim Patterson, a Fresno, Cal., Republican, originally would have required anyone collecting evidence of animal mistreatment to provide the information to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours. He later amended that to 120 hours.

However, there was little support for the measure, with more than 50 organizations, including animal welfare and labor organizations and the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., opposed to it.

Labor groups said it would "compel" employees with evidence of abuse to become "government agents." The publishers group said it would apply to journalists, as well as undercover investigators, and would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Patterson withdrew the bill after it became evident that there was insufficient support to advance it out of the assembly's agriculture committee.

He had introduced the bill for the California Cattlemen's Assn.

Elsewhere, lawmakers in Arkansas and Wyoming have not advanced similar legislation. However, in Tennessee, the senate passed a measure on April 16 that requires evidence of abuse to be reported to authorities within 48 hours, and the house is now considering the bill.

A bill in Nebraska would require reporting within 24-48 hours, and bills in Indiana and Pennsylvania would make it a crime to film or photograph farm animal operations without the consent of the owner.

Iowa and Utah adopted laws last year that prohibit filming or photographing farm animal operations as part of undercover investigations (Feedstuffs, March 12 and April 30, 2012).

Animal rights and vegetarian activists who conduct undercover investigations refer to laws that limit or prevent their investigations as "ag gag" measures that threaten animal welfare, public health and freedom of the press.

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