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'Ag Gag' bill makes it a crime to video animal abuse in Idaho

March 7, 2014

Many people were horrified to see undercover video in 2012 of cows being beaten and sexually abused by workers at Bettencourt Dairies, one of Idaho's largest dairy operations. The video, recorded by someone from the animal rights group Mercy for Animals, led to the prosecution of some employees at the dairy. It also led to a new law in Idaho, passed last week, making it illegal for anyone to secretly record dairy and farm operations.

Idaho's new so-called "Ag Gag" law carries with it a one-year jail sentence and a $5,000 fine. Opponents say the new law will shelter animal abusers while supporters argue it will protect the right to privacy for farmers and dairy operators.

"My signature today reflects my confidence in their desire to responsibly act in the best interest of the animals on which that livelihood depends," wrote Idaho Governor C.L. Otter in a statement published on the Idaho Statesman website. "No animals rights organization cares more or has more at stake than Idaho farmers and ranchers do in ensuring that their animals are healthy, well-treated and productive."

The bill was supported by most, but not all, dairy operators in Idaho.

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the Greek yogurt company Chobani, said the law went against his company's values and would limit transparency in the industry. Chobani operates a $450 million plant in Idaho.

To date, 15 states have proposed "Ag Gag" legislation. Idaho is the first to pass a measure into law.

Discussion Questions:

Are you for or against so-called "Ag Gag" laws? Is this the beginning of a broader effort to protect the privacy of other types of business, e.g., retailers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Will passage of so-called "Ag Gag" laws help or hurt the image of farmers in the eyes of consumers?


The question is what is more important, business privacy, consumers' rights to know, or animal welfare? We've seen too many instances lately of animals being abused. Consumers have a right to know this. Businesses should be held to a standard. The only way this will happen is if there is transparency. Hats off to Chobani for coming out against this law.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates


Transparency is what it's all about in 2014. Millennials in particular notice such things. Covering up is never good. Add this to the AZ legislatures' and others looking to protect what shouldn't be protected.

I would look for just as many cameras going undercover to show atrocities - fines be damned. Then what Idaho? Make them a martyr to the cause?

In the end, consumers are holding businesses accountable for making the world better, not business as usual.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor


If a farmer wants to abuse animals in his own barn that is sick but there is perhaps some small argument to be made about "privacy." Employees who actually have values and a conscience shouldn't work there.

BUT...if those same abused animals, hens, etc., are put on the counter as food it's a whole new game. This foolish direction takes its cues from the sad Monsanto Law situation. All of it the result of big business lobbying and greedy short-sighted politicians. And we're supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth?

The connection to "retailers" is odd. Are we expecting that owners/managers might mistreat their "sales livestock?" And is the idea on the table that perhaps no one should know? And all this is about "privacy?" Does this extend to elder, spouse and child abuse? Just how sick and sad is this country becoming?

Arnie Riebli of egg producer Sunrise Farms had a Road to Damascus experience. Sunrise was producing eggs in the old cramped hen abusive model. He decided to allow public tours of the facility. When people would break down sobbing unable to finish the tour he knew something had to change. Mr. Riebli said. "The producers in other states don't want to hear about animal welfare, but they're ignoring what's going on among the public." California has instituted remarkable transformation in that industry. Another producer JS West has live internet video feed of their laying hens. You don't get any more transparent than that! I'd pay whatever they want for their eggs.

Oh, and the first sentence above? I take it back - there is no argument to be made.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation


This raises an interesting question. I'm not sure the law can stand, because how does it work in concert with whistleblower protections? And if money can be construed as free speech, how can video not be? Don't workers have a right to record their working conditions? How can that be made illegal? I confess, I'm confused. The response to an exposure of abuses is to prevent the mechanism of exposure and provide more cover for abuses. Really?

For retail, it's the same question - can you make it illegal for consumers to take video in stores? For employees to take video of things their bosses say or do? Retail is a much more public domain just by the nature of stores, so I think that will be much harder. But I guess it's ironic that retailers are fighting to put more video cameras in stores - a la video analytics and location analytics - while agriculture is trying to get them out.

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Decorum prevents me from stating my true opinion of good ol' "Butch" Otter and his asinine/hypocritical statement on the Idaho Statesman website.

Big ag, big meat processing, big CPG, and others seek to operate their businesses in hidden and unregulated ways so as to extract every ounce of profit from their operations, away from the scrutiny of public opinion. This bill enables that and is a major win for lobbyists and the industries they represent.

There is no concern for consumers in this bill. There is no concern for animals in this bill. There is no concern for truth and decency in this bill.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive


Simple statement. Abuse needs to be exposed. Next will we see a bill proposed to make it illegal to film undercover abuses in nursing homes or child care centers?

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics


Hey, while we're at it, let's criminalize all kinds of whistle-blowing. That way, low-lifes everywhere will be able to maintain their privacy.

I've been boycotting Arizona for years...looks like Idaho will also be on my do-not-fly list.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates


This a law that proves the power of paid lobbyists. If your business is well run, you would welcome its coverage. If you have something to hide, you'll welcome this law. I guess Idaho has things to hide....

John Tilton, President, Design Imaging Group

What am I missing? Not only would I think that there is no right to privacy in terms of how animals are treated if they are part of the food source or used for other commercial reasons, I would opt for mandatory cameras to be installed on the site (then there is no secrecy or hidden cameras...it is out there and everyone knows).

I am willing to be educated differently, but I just don't see the rationale of "trusting" the farmer/business owner/rancher when it comes to preventing abuse.

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

Wow, it's difficult to fathom that there could be anything but a single point of view on this topic...that this law is counter to the interest of consumers and all that is important to them, whether it be animal welfare or some other issue. Eventually this will trickle down to the retailer...it already has in the apparel industry.

I was just in the Chobani SoHo cafe, and I'm glad I was able to support a company whose beliefs align with me!

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Kelly Tackett, Retail Analyst, Independent

This is legislation run amok. Privacy issues go so far until they trample on rights of those vulnerable that cannot protect themselves - and that includes farm animals. Human nature being what it is - there's the good, the bad, and the ugly - the day when we place 100% trust into an entire group's "desire to responsibly act in the best interest of the animals on which that livelihood depends" is truly irresponsible.

Take it to an extreme, we ought to eliminate all laws that protect children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled because those people and institutions that take care of them (family and community members, the health care professionals) have a similar desire to responsibly act in the best interest of the "people" on which that livelihood depends.

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Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP


In this day and age, privacy is a tough nut to define. If John Q. public can "see" it, it is no longer private. Right?

But then we have to talk about confidentiality. What must an employee keep confidential? Can she go around taking pictures inside the office? Can she blog about it?

These are things that employers need to think about and put into writing to be agreed by all employees. If the employee can't agree then I suggest they seek work elsewhere.

As for John Q. Public? He should be able to snap away all he wants if he can see it.

And that's my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

This is without a doubt the most cowardly thing a state can ever do. If someone hadn't filmed these atrocities under cover, the company wouldn't have changed anything. This gives the food companies a terrible black eye, and they should be ashamed. I know I am.

Donna Brockway, President, FutureRetail

Well, despite these ridiculous laws, there has been enough documentation over the years for anyone who really cares to learn the sickening truth about factory farming. Willful ignorance is part of the problem. Start with Paul McCartney's "Glass Walls" pick up a copy of "Skinny Bitch" or "Eating Animals" and go from there.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, Spieckerman Retail

Well, is Chobani leaving Idaho? Will they closely audit their suppliers in Idaho?

Now to the original topic: There are laws that govern abusing animals -- even ones on their way to the slaughterhouse. The majority of firms obey these laws and do or should have no patience for those in their line of trade who don't. Bad behavior gives the entire industry a bad name.

On the filming issue -- I think the impetus behind this is short sighted, but is based on the fact that since the majority of consumers have no connection to animal agriculture, any video of slaughter facilities, etc., would be viewed in a less than favorable light. Until everyone who eats meat (which I do and have participated in all stages of its preparation) realizes that it is not for the faint of heart, this type of filming will likely be illegal. There are also some privacy issues as well -- certain states prohibit taping of phone conversations unless all involved parties approve.

As for those in food production who are unprofessional and abusive to livestock -- I advocate for better training, more on site inspections to catch and punish them PLUS a special place in the afterlife for them. I was taught we are the stewards of agriculture and owe it the animals in our care to take care of them to the best of our ability -- even if the end goal is to eat them.


Disgusting. Money seems to run everything now in this country. These people should be ashamed. (But I'm sure they're not.)

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

First, in spirit of disclosure, my family has owned a cattle operation for generations, roughly 150 years, although I am not personally involved at this time.

It is obvious that the videos that were made public some time ago were showed horrific and horrible acts and that those committing such should be prosecuted under the full extent of existing and quite comprehensive laws, as should anyone doing similar at a commercial facility or private setting.

However, there is a much bigger issue at play here, the issue of overall video/audio privacy, one that has been highlighted recently with all the talk of drones operated by commercial as well as government agencies.

There seems to be an outcry from some quarters, with good cause, suggesting that there should be significant limits put on what drones can video tape. Should they be allowed to video tape my teenage daughters sunbathing in my back yard, on my private property? Should they be allowed to video tape them as they walk to and from school? Should they be able to follow them into public or private facilities and continue? I think many of us would have problems with these scenarios.

Taken to the next step, should private drones be able to fly into a store and video tape anything and everything, including customers, employees, merchandise, merchandising discussions, pricing discussions, hiring/firing discussions. I again think that there would be many who would vote no here too.

So the question is, should third parties be allowed to video tape whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of it being a private business - agriculture or retail - or private property of a homeowner? Again, I think many would vote no.

The abuses recorded in Idaho were terrible. Likewise the balance in a free society between safety/protection and privacy need to be carefully guarded. We need to be wary of letting terrible behavior provide an excuse for getting on the slippery slope of removing all video/audio privacy from any private enterprise or individual.

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Verlin Youd, Managing Principal, Verizon

Someone wrote "There are laws that govern abusing animals -- even ones on their way to the slaughterhouse." Can anyone wrap their minds around such a statement?

"Awareness is bad for the meat business. Conscience is bad for the meat business. Sensitivity to life is bad for the meat business. DENIAL (and secrecy), however, the meat business finds indispensable."
-John Robbins, Diet for a New America

When you start with a necessary evil, and then over time the necessity passes away, what's left?
Matthew Scully, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy."


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