FRANKFORT, Ky. - Legislation aimed at criminalizing undercover filming or photographing of farm animal operations advanced to the Kentucky Senate on Tuesday with the backing of the state's most influential farm organization.
The Senate Agriculture Committee attached the language to a House-passed bill.
Supporters said the amended measure would make it a misdemeanor for someone to gain access to a private farm under false pretenses and then film or photograph the operations without the landowner's consent. Violators could face up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.
"It's a pretty big priority because we're seeing a trend," said Jeff Harper, director of public affairs for the Kentucky Farm Bureau. "Now it's coming to Kentucky, and as a farm organization we thought it was our duty ... to take some action."
The proposal was denounced by the Humane Society of the United States.
It comes about a month after an undercover investigation revealed animal cruelty at a western Kentucky pig farm, said Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society's vice president of farm-animal protection. Video and photographs showed large pigs confined in cages so small that they couldn't turn around, and showed sows being fed the remains of diseased piglets, he said.
In recent years, animal rights groups have released undercover video elsewhere around the country exposing instances of animal abuse at slaughterhouses and farms.
Now, the state's meat industry is trying to silence whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty or food safety violations, Shaprio said by phone Tuesday.
"It really shows how much the meat industry has to hide," Shapiro said.
Supporters said the bill was intended to prevent intruders on private agricultural property.
"It's a shame, really, that we have to pass legislation like this ... to prohibit someone from coming onto a farm or any agricultural operation under false pretenses trying to do a farm or any other business owner harm," Harper said.
Supporters said it's in the farmers' best interests to properly care for their animals.
"The care of livestock and poultry is the farmers' bottom line," Harper said. "The better they take care of their animals ... then obviously the better those animals are going to do when they go to market."
If the Senate passes the bill, it would return to the House. The House version did not include the language attached by the Senate committee.
The Humane Society will urge House members to reject the Senate changes, Shapiro said.
The so-called "ag-gag" language was added to a bill that originally sought to prevent animal shelters from using gas chambers as a form of euthanasia.