116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If some Iowa lawmakers get their way, filming pigs could land you to in the pokey.
Legislation that recently cleared the House and a Senate panel would make it a crime to take stealthy footage or audio of livestock and crop operations. Farmers, backers argue, need protection from animal-rights-types who get jobs at confinement operations hoping to get footage of animal mistreatment. Making those videos would be a crime, under the bills.
The measures include other provisions aimed at destruction of property, but candid camera criminality is the fighting issue.
This is not surprising. If there's a group of people on the planet who knows it's best if we don't see where sausage comes from, it's lawmakers.
If they allow this sort of thing, somebody might think about bringing secret cameras into that big gold-domed legislator confinement facility in Des Moines. Just think if we ever got a shaky, grainy look at all those lobbyist huddles and closed caucuses and private budget negotiations.
Oh, the carnage.
It's also bad legislation. Backers insist it's all about PETA provocateurs, but it could also make criminals out of any Iowans who see something troubling down on the farm and flip open a cell phone to get visual proof. When you boil this down to its bones, the only people who would truly benefit are people doing something wrong.
Backers argue that videos are edited to make things look worse, cutting out scenes, evidently, where pigs get Swedish massages and snifters of brandy. They also say we'll misunderstand what we're seeing. We'll get the wrong idea about farming.
Please. We're Iowans. Anyone who has lived here for more than a meal or two ought to know that livestock production is, at times, more Stephen King than Grant Wood. Getting delicious chops from pigs to plates isn't always pretty. We don't expect our steaks to come from cattle that died of natural causes, surrounded by family and friends.
We do expect livestock production to be humane and lawful. We also expect safe food. And with all the gaps in our government inspection dragnet, we just might need amateurs with cameras.
Certainly, prosecutors and judges in this farm state can tell the difference between typical farming and unlawful abuse when they see it. Under these bills, they might not get the chance.
And really, why should agriculture get a hall pass from the modern world? For better or worse, we live in the most meticulously documented times in world history. Our cameras never blink. You can't even fall into a shopping mall fountain without millions of people watching.
If NPR can have its federal subsidy yanked thanks to a secret video, why should agribusiness be protected? Agriculture gets federal subsidies by the billions of bushels. That's a lot of “Car Talk” tote bags.
Hopefully, lawmakers will send these bills to a nice farm in the country. No pictures, please.