Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photograph a Cow; Go To Jail

Fred Grimm reports on a very serious problem and the urgent response by the Florida legislature.

Senate Bill 1246 makes it a first-degree felony for anyone who “photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted” to do so without written consent.

The bill banishes any naïve assumption about a traveler along a country road aiming his Nikon at a pastoral scene with grazing livestock. Plainly, these photographers are undercover provocateurs, out to sabotage Florida agriculture. And, if this bill passes, they’ll be felons.

Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa told the Tampa Tribune that his bill, however broadly written, was aimed at undercover animal-rights activists who might secretly photograph or videotape farm conditions and post unsettling images on the Internet. “It’s been a problem nationally,” Norman told the Tribune. “I’m talking about an assault on the agriculture industry.”

Norman’s bill would keep consumers blissfully unaware of conditions inside the factory farms that have been targeted by undercover operatives from groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA responded that Floridians might be better served by a bill requiring “cameras in the slaughterhouses so people can see where their food actually comes from.” That, of course, would be about as unpalatable as a video allowing people to see where laws come from.

But Norman has an irrefutable argument. Animals raised in factory farms live their short lives in such obscene cruelty, crammed in tiny spaces amid their own filth, pumped up with drugs, unable to exercise, or often just to turn about, that it would hardly do to allow the public to make a link between those awful conditions and Junior’s kiddie meal.

I hold no love for PETA, but if this isn’t a prime example of over-reaction to the point of stupidity on the part of the legislature, I don’t know what would it would be. That said, it is early in the session, so I could be wrong.

And I wonder what Carlos Miller, Miami’s freedom fighter for photography, will have to say about this.