IDAHO successfully signed into law the first bill in the country this year that protects farmers from animal activists seeking to conduct video surveillance, obtain records or gain employment with the intent to cause economic harm.
Specifically, the bill prohibits anyone not employed by an agricultural production facility to enter or obtain records on the facility by "force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass." It also prohibits making video or audio recordings of conduct at the facility.
It also limits anyone from obtaining employment at a facility with the intent to "cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests or customers."
If found guilty of the misdemeanor crime, defendants could serve as much as one year in jail and be fined as much as $5,000.
Termed "ag gag" laws by activists, the bill comes on the heels of a 2012 undercover video at an Idaho dairy farm released by Mercy for Animals that later led to the firing of five workers, three of whom faced criminal charges. The farm later installed its own surveillance cameras to keep its 500 workers in check.
The Idaho bill, first introduced on Feb. 11, quickly made its way to the governor's desk. It passed the state House by a vote of 56-14 and the state Senate by a vote of 25-10.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the bill into law Feb. 28, saying it is about agricultural producers being secure in their property and their livelihood. He said his signature reflects his confidence in the agriculture industry to "responsibly act in the best interest of the animals on which that livelihood depends."
Activist groups were opposed to the measure, which was supported and backed by the Idaho agriculture industry. The Humane Society of the United States said the ag-gag law "covers up animal abuse, unsafe working conditions and environmental violations."
In his written statement, Otter said, "No animal rights organization cares more or has more at stake than Idaho farmers and ranchers do in ensuring that their animals are healthy, well-treated and productive."
The Idaho Dairymen's Assn. pressed for the bill, testifying that animal right activists are focused more on hurting the dairy industry and its brands rather than truly protecting animals.
Before it was signed, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and chief executive officer of Greek yogurt maker Chobani, urged the governor to reconsider signing the bill. Chobani recently decided to build a plant in the state because of its "deep farming culture, sense of community and shared values," he said.
Ulukaya noted that if the bill passed, it would "limit transparency and make some instances of exposing the mistreatment of animals in the state punishable by imprisonment. This could cause the general public concern and conflicts with our views and values."
Idaho's law represents the seventh bill of its kind nationally, following up on recent bills passed in Iowa, Utah and Missouri. North Dakota, Montana and Kansas adopted first-generation bills during the 1990-91 legislative session. Last year, 13 states introduced similar measures, but none were approved.