In a vote that was so lopsided it just had to be pro-forma, the Illinois House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 5793 by 128 votes to 0. The Bill -- "Farm Animal and Agricultural Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act" -- seems innocuous enough at first glance, reminding everyone that the standard laws on theft, sabotage and damage from households and businesses also apply to farm property. However, as Eric Zorn
points out in the Chicago Tribune
, the real purpose of the 1,000-word Bill is hidden away in a 16-word sentence.
The tendentious clause makes it a criminal offence punishable by 6 months in jail for taking photographs or videos of animals in "animal facilities," a term defined as anywhere an animal is "kept, housed, handled, exhibited, bred, raised, or offered for sale or purchase" without the permission of the facility owner
. Aimed directly at animal rights' activists and others concerned with the humane production of food, this prohibition would also stop State Food Inspectors from documenting regulatory abuses at such animal facilities .
This little beauty is buried on page 3 in Section 10, Subsection C, paragraph 4 where it's a good bet most lawmakers didn't even see it. "I didn't know I voted for that," said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who is considered a pro-animal legislator. She explained: "We try to read the full texts of all the bills, but we often have to rely on analysts and lobbyists. I guess this one snuck by us."
The pushers of the bill claim the wording is primarily to protect copyrighted activities in research facilities. "A lot of these facilities do high-tech biological research," Kevin Semlow, a pro-Bill lobbyist, said. "We've had problems with people making videos of copyrighted technologies, such as the way feed systems work for livestock." However, as Zorn points out, that sort of espionage is already and specifically covered by a 1990 piece of legislation.
No, this Bill is for one purpose only -- to keep the public's knowledge of how their food supply is managed to a minimum. As anyone who has read Fast Food Nation
and similar works knows, this ain't a pretty business. "When you tell people what goes on at some of these farms they say, `Oh, really?'" said Don Rolla, lobbyist for Illinois Humane PAC. "But when you show them a picture or a video, they're horrified." Corporations claim to hate government regulation -- except when they want something, of course.
The Illinois Bill is currently sitting in the Senate with no date set for debate.