Saturday, April 9, 2011

Taking pictures of farm operations a felony?

Mel, a reader of my blog, pointed me to a bill introduced in Florida that would make it a felony to enter an agricultural property and photograph operations there without written permission

And I have to say that part of me really likes that proposed law, and I'll give you an example why, from my local newspapers in the last week: 

April 6th, 2011:
Three animal carcasses were found beside a local road and a $5,000 reward was offered by a local animal rights group

April 7th, 2011: 
A vet who examined the carcasses says that they were raccoons, and the reward was retracted.

I cannot speak to other parts of the country, but I feel like I get a lot of scrutiny from people, and I can see where this sort of law comes from, the problem that they're trying to solve.  I'm not the only one.  Michelle, in this entry on her blog, talks about the naivete of non farmers and how annoyed she is by it. 

In this neck of the woods, all it takes is someone saying that there's a problem and it feels like there's a group of people looking to jump right in an "right the wrong" -- even when there's no wrong in the first place.  Take a look at the first picture I posted here, of the sow. 

What if I said "I took this picture of a sow that collapsed in a field, obviously too weak to stand up, and I think that she's suffering", and then posted it to the local craigslist animal group?  It would take me all of 45 seconds to do, and if I supplied the address, who knows what sort of grief the poor sows owner would have to deal with.  People coming to take pictures of the suffering.  Calls to animal control.  Local news reporters.  Animal rights groups.  Concerned citizens.   When the truth is that she's a sweet girl who just got done giving herself a dip in the pond and is now sunning herself, gloriously and happily pregnant.
  But when one of these media frenzies happen, the truth doesn't matter any more, and suddenly you've got a situation on your hands that requires you to spend hours and hours defending what, at the most basic level, is a normal, everyday thing.  Sows lay down, and when they're pregnant, especially late-term, they lay down a lot. 
Or this sheep.  Clearly it has some sort of skin problem -- look, the wool is coming off of it!  It's all mangy looking!  Clearly undernourished!  ABUSE!  (Or it's spring, and it's shedding, and this breed of sheep, hair sheep, katahdin, shed their wool every year)

I can completely, wholly, without any reservation at all say that I know exactly the kind of trouble that this bill is trying to solve.  And knowing all that...

...It's a bad bill. 

I don't want to run a farm where I can't have people see what I do.  I practice visible agriculture.   I'm ok with people coming and seeing what I do.  ANYTHING I DO, and so if you really want to come and take pictures, give me a call and we'll set up a time.  I promise not to make any special preparations for you.  Make sure to wear your boots.  I've got mud.  boy do I have mud.

I believe that's the biggest problem I have with modern farming methods -- you just dont' see what they do.  We have become just too far removed from our food, and when that food is animals, from the animals, too.

  Those stacks of cages with 6 birds stuffed into each one, or the pig barn that has to run huge fans or the pigs will die from the ammonia that their waste generates.  That stuff gets stuck onto a property hundreds of yards from a road, and no one gets to see it.    The barn is neat and clean, and the grass is trimmed on the outside, and what goes on inside no one knows.  

I can't make taking pictures of farm operations a felony because sometimes we really need to know whats inside that barn.  I feel the same way about photographing police officers doing their work.

As much as I hate the scrutiny I personally get, I accept it, and embrace it because it's the right thing to do. 

And that's why I think that it's a bad bill. 

Thank you, Mel, for giving me that link. 


Enjay said...

Pretty low rent of the person to leave the carcasses by the side of the road, but I have to wonder at the beef cheek and hide. Bait?

Anonymous said...

I brought my boys to the farm on Saturday to take pictures, as they've recently picked up the interest in photography. We had such a wonderful time. There was a girl working that day (I forgot her name!) but she was kind enough to come out and tell us about the pigs, the pregnant ones, let us rub one of the pregnant pig's bellies, and even let us go back and see the baby piglets. We had a fantastic day, and we really appreciate the opportunity to visit and take pictures. I fell in love with the runt pig pictured below. How big does a "runt" get? I'm curious, because I've been begging my husband for a tiny pig :)
Thank you again, we had a wonderful time!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I couldn't help thinking of the factory farms in "food inc" that wouldn't let them film inside the chicken barns... If it isn't bad why hide it?

John Schneider - Gold Forest Grains said...

You'd better support this bill Bruce! I can see the headlines already..."local farmer leaving fruit and veggies to rot in field". The vegans will be all over you.

Melissa said...

Thanks for your thoughts (and sorry to be slow getting back here). I like your analogy about recording police operations, it could probably be extended further to entities like Wikileaks.

If I were king of the world, I'd make farm tours a regular part of school curricula. Knowledge is important. Knowledge is important. Knowledge is important.