BOISE, Idaho — According to emails obtained through an open records request, a dairy industry lobbyist was allowed to directly craft what would ultimately become Idaho’s “ag-gag” bill — the latest in a series of state laws that seek to prevent animal rights activists from exposing the abuses of industrial agriculture.
The bill’s sponsor, Idaho state Sen. Jim Patrick, a Republican from Twin Falls, claimed the bill was crafted in response to a video showing animal rights abuses at a Bettencourt, Idaho, farm that supplies Burger King meat. The Intercept’s Lee Fang writes that Patrick “compared the activists behind the Bettencourt video to marauding invaders who burned crops to starve their enemies. ‘This is clear back in the sixth century B.C.,’ Patrick said, according to Al Jazeera America. ‘This is the way you combat your enemies.’”
Those caught violating the law would face a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines for covertly recording farming operations. The same punishments are extended to those who lie on job applications about their connections to animal rights groups or news organizations.
Dan Steenson, a registered lobbyist for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, openly testified in favor of the bill. However, the emails, published by The Intercept on Thursday, show that Patrick worked closely with Steenson to create the bill before its introduction:
“On January 30, before Sen. Patrick’s bill was formally introduced, Steenson emailed Bob Naerebout, another Dairymen lobbyist, and Brian Kane, the assistant chief deputy of the state attorney general’s office, with a copy of the legislation. ‘The attached draft incorporates the suggestions you gave us this morning,’ Steenson wrote, thanking Kane for his help in reviewing the bill. Kane responded with ‘one minor addition’ to the legislation, which he described to Steenson as ‘your draft.’
Idaho was the seventh state to pass an ag-gag law, despite fierce opposition from animal rights and free speech activists. Like other laws which favor industrial agriculture over the rights of individual citizens, many legislators who sponsor ag-gag bills have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative think tank that allows corporations to craft legislation that is later introduced in state legislatures. Idaho’s bill is no exception: Jim Patrick is proud of his role as ALEC’s Idaho State Chair.
The viral success of videos of animal abuse posted to YouTube in recent years has been one factor propelling the proliferation of ag-gag laws in state legislatures. While shocking and often disturbing, these videos shine light on the typical conditions of the “confined animal feeding operations” used by industrial agriculture — hundreds of animals tightly packed in filthy cages, with widespread physical and mental health problems caused by squalid conditions.
Indeed, the Bettencourt dairy farm video was viewed almost 500,000 times, bringing negative media attention to Burger King for footage that shows dairy workers, “viciously beating and shocking cows and violently twisting their tails in order to deliberately inflict pain.” Another video forced McDonald’s and Target to switch egg suppliers in 2011. To produce a 2014 video, one activist flew a drone over a Smithfield Foods farm, exposing a number of the massive hog farm’s shocking actions, which included spraying untreated animal waste into the air.
The tactic of covertly filming is so effective and so apt for going viral, that it seems corporate-owned legislators are left with no choice but to suppress activists’ free speech rights.
Watch the disturbing video of animal abuse at the Bettencourt dairy farm below: