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January 25, 2012

The HSUS Praises Florida Legislative Committees for Removing “Ag-Gag” Language from Agricultural Bill

The Humane Society of the United States praised Florida’s Senate Agriculture Committee and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee for removing a harmful provision from SB1184/HB 1021 aimed at criminalizing whistleblowing employees who expose animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, environmental destruction and other problems on farms.

The Senate Committee stripped Section 6 of SB1184/HB 1021 after two public hearings brought to light serious concerns over threats to First Amendment rights, food safety, animal welfare and workers’ rights. 

“We applaud Florida’s Senate committee members for recognizing the folly of this provision and killing it,” said HSUS southern regional director Laura Bevan. “We urge lawmakers in states with similar bills pending to follow Florida's lead and reject these bills.”

If passed, Section 6 of SB 1184/HB 1021, would have outlawed the act of photographing or videotaping abusive, unsanitary or otherwise dangerous or illegal activity on a farm.  Even employees and journalists taking photos or video to document misconduct on farms —including animal abuse, worker safety violations, sexual harassment or embezzlement—could have faced criminal prosecution and imprisonment under Section 6.

The factory farming industry has introduced similar “ag-gag” bills in New York, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.
 
Facts
• Last year, four states including Florida, introduced “ag-gag” bills. None passed.
• In 2008, an investigation of California’s Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history after revealing that sick animals were slaughtered for human consumption. The recall prevented potentially tainted meat from being distributed to school cafeterias, including dozens of school districts in Florida.
• In November 2011, cruelty was documented on video at a Miami-Dade slaughterhouse, leading to the plant’s closure and the operator’s arrest. Police found egregious animal cruelty along with blood and other fluids seeping into the ground, posing a significant health risk to city residents. If Section 6 of SB 1184/HB 1021 had been enacted at the time, it would have criminalized the videographer and endangered the public by keeping the slaughterhouse operator’s illegal activity hidden.
• Florida’s own humane slaughter and livestock euthanasia laws (F.S.S. 828.22-828.26) resulted from a 1999 undercover video documenting horrific cruelty at an Okeechobee farm.

 
Media Contact: Anna West, awest@humanesociety.org, 301-258-1518

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