In March, Missouri State Representative Jim Guest for the third year in a row introduced a bill in that state’s legislature that would make it illegal to take unauthorized photographs of some animal enterprises.
The bill would modify a section of Missouri law making it illegal to,
Without the express written consent of the animal facility, photograph, videotape, or otherwise obtain images from a location within the animal facility that is not legally accessible to the public;
[And/or]Intentionally or knowingly release or introduce any pathogen or disease in or near an animal facility that has the potential to cause disease in any animal at the animal facility or that otherwise threatens human health or biosecurity at the animal facility.
The second provision, on the intentional release of pathogens, is a concern that animal rights activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals helped create when both Bruce Friedrich and Ingrid Newkirk made public statements in 2001 hoping that Great Britain’s foot-and-mouth epidemic would afflict farm animals in the United States as well.
Newkirk said at the time, that,
I openly hope that it [foot and mouth disease] comes here. It will bring economic harm only for those who profit from giving people heart attacks and giving animals a concentration camp-like existence.
While Friedrich wrote in a letter a few weeks later that,
I suppose if it happens [an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the United States], we’ll write a massive thank you note because it’ll turn a massive amount of people into vegetarians
Though why people would turn to vegetarianism over a disease that, except in very rare instance, effects only non-humans and even then simply causes a mild illness is a mystery (the problem the disease causes is almost exclusively economic for farmers, and is endemic in much of the world without any adverse health risks to human beings other than slightly higher costs for meat).
But why the ban on photography? Guest says it is needed to secure Missouri farms and breeders from animal rights extremists and potential bioterrorists. He told the St. Louis Dispatch,
We’ve been fortunate that we have not had a threat to our food security. We have the safest food supply in the world, and the intent of this legislation is to strengthen those statutes we have and protect that.
Meanwhile, Brenda Kemp, president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, said the bill would help deter trespassing on farms and other animal enterprises,
You have no idea where they’ve been or what they’re tracking in. With a kennel you have to be extremely careful with who you let on your property because you can bring in disease so easily.
Frankly, I think the ban on photography makes little sense when what seems to really be needed is simply a strengthening — and perhaps more enforcement effort — of existing trespassing laws. A ban on photographing animal enterprises from publicly accessible areas is simply a bad idea. A better idea is larger fines and other remedies targeted at people who trespass on private property to take pictures that are not obtainable from publicly accessible areas.
The full text of HB 666 can be read here.
Animal protection groups blast farm photograph bill. Jacob Luecke, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29, 2005.