PETA says farm photography bill would criminalize those calling attention to animal abuse

04/06/11 Lenka Davis
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One controversial bill moving through the Florida Legislature would make people criminals if they photograph or video tape farms without permission. Animal rights groups are concerned the bill will target activists trying to document cruelty. Last night, the senior vice president for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, spoke at the University of South Florida in Tampa. WMNF reporter Lenka Davis interviewed Matthews about the farm photography bill.

Senate Bill 1246, filed by Senator Jim Norman, which has already unanimously passed the Senate Agricultural Committee, will outlaw the photographing or video taping of farms without the written permission by the farm owner.

For activist groups like PETA, documenting the treatment of animals is the most powerful tool for improving their living conditions. However, some argue the law is protecting the agricultural know-how. Whom exactly is the law designed to protect?

"It's designed to protect the people that own farms and slaughter houses in the state of Florida who are aware that there are a lot of cruelties that happen routinely on their farms. We have found, across the country, that animals are abused in hideous ways that violate state and federal cruelty codes. And so instead of changing their ways and making their places more efficient and more humane, they're trying to just block it from public view. I think that's a real shame and I think that the very idea that a bill like this would be introduced shows the public that they have so much to be afraid of."

The activists like PETA and other groups use photography and film footage as one of documenting the animal treatment. What other ways do you have if the bill is passed?

"We will always some how get into places and document the cruelty, that is the base of everything we do. We have a philosophy that the animals are just like people in most important ways. They feel pain, they have intelligence they shouldn't be abused, but there's a certain point where you've got to move on from philosophy and show evidence and that's what PETA has always been about and will always be about. We'll defeat this bill as it was defeated in Colorado, in Texas, and I'm sure will be defeated in Iowa. And to tell you the truth, I hope they keep introducing bills like this around the country because, really, nothing shows the general public more how much these places have to hide than these kinds of bills."

Are you actually familiar with the punishment that the one that takes pictures or takes the document is facing?

"The original bill here was designed to make it a felony to take a picture of some of these animals which means that they're in the jail with rapists and murderers. After the public outcry they changed it to misdemeanor, but that's still ridiculous and it's not going to...I don't think it's going to pass."

In both cases you would be sent to jail.

"Yes, exactly. You know, what's funny is that they're criminalizing the documentation of a crime in order to excuse the crime itself. I think that's where most people, even people who aren't animal rights activists find that it's ridiculous. These foolish bills do more to drive people to PETA's side than other things that happen. I think it's not a bad situation actually."

What kind of mood did you experience during these rally's that you had?

"We find that, again, the images of the cruelty are the things that most people don't want to see, but, they want people to be able to see them. I think that's the thing that's at the heart of the debate here is that people feel that, especially in a democracy that involves free speech, there should be a transparency, especially in places that are regulated by the federal government but which have been shown to not be regulated properly for decades now."

Can you give me the examples of other activities that PETA has been doing in this regard?

"Sure, well we take this evidence of cruelty and we post it online and we have a very active online component to get these images to people. We have people like Pink and Paul McCartney and Martha Stewart who host videos spotlighting this cruelty and bringing them to their fans via Twitter and via Facebook. We have various ways to get this message across but the base of all of it is the footage. We do a lot of crazy protests and things like that as well. We'll dress in strange costumes or protest naked. All those things are good and well, but they're not as important as showing the cruelty to people."

When asked what people of Florida could do to change the situation, Dan Matthews recommended that they should get involved, visit the PETA website, write or call their local and state representatives as well as write editorials to their local newspapers about this bill.

Previous WMNF news coverage of PETA

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Businesses are entitled to privacy…

Look… farms are private industries and enjoy the same rights to protection from industrial espionage as say… Boing or Microsoft!!! Farmers and farm owners have their own “proprietary secrets” that help keep them competitive in their markets. What… you don’t remember Frank Perdue and the “dandelion petals” giving that glorious golden color to his chicken??? Farms have their industrial secrets and should be protected!!! As for animal cruelty… slave labor or other illegal farming activities… we have the Agricultural Department to handle that!!! However… I do believe that the Agricultural Department needs to be absorbed by the Fish and Wildlife Department… given a kevlar vest & sidearm and turned into “field agents”!!! UP AGAINST THE WALL YOU REDNECK MUTHAF…

Didn't NPR deserve privacy at their fundraiser?

It is pretty convenient to call for the right to privacy of these farmers tactics on one hand, but fully accept the James Okeefe video of the NPR fundraisers that was made in the same manner. I am no huge fan of PETA, I am not a criminal just because I am an omnivore,but some farms and farming habits need to be exposed for the safety of the consumer.

Not when tax dollars are involved...

Private industry vs publicly funded or government entities… where should the protection of privacy be stronger??? This one’s a no-brainer for me…