Transparency's a Felony

Published on: 17:03PM Mar 21, 2011


As the agriculture industry, we constantly call for transparency. We want consumers to know what happens on our farms, we want people to understand how their food is produced and bottom line; we want production agriculture to be visible to the public. That being the case, farmers and ranchers should be completely, 100%, against the proposal that was presented to Florida legislature last month right?

The proposed legislation in Florida, SB 1246, states that photographing a farm without permission will be committing a felony.


 "A person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree,"

I realize that this proposal likely came about because of recent videos taken undercover and used by the Humane Society of the United States to exploit agriculture. However, I argue that if we act like there is something to hide than the perception of our industry will be that there is something to hide. As in any other area of life, rumors are far more extreme, big and ugly than truths. Might I also add that any photo or video taken with or without permission of the farmer can be framed or edited to paint any picture that an activist wishes. Chickens are in cages with or without photo permission.
We want to set myths straight right? Should we consider what consumers think the proposal of this says about our industry?
Tom Laskawy of Grist Magazine wrote this about the proposed legislation;
"… It’s inevitable that in the epistemically closed system of Big Ag, a rancher, and a state senator would agree that a bill like this makes perfect sense… What we need to learn from this sorry episode is that Big Ag's answer to reform is denial, obfuscation, and ignorance."
Laskawy is clearly not a consumer in favor of conventional agriculture, "Big Ag" as he refers to it. But he might be on to something. Are we acting irrational? Even more important, how many more consumers like him exist? How many of them think instituting this law is just another way to hide?
As producers we reserve the right to maintain private property. Our farms are our property and for some farms (hog & poultry especially) there is an issue of biosecurity to be considered. However, a blanket statement saying that any person on any farm in Florida that takes a photograph without permission is a felon seems a bit extreme to me. I too am a private land owner and there is nothing that bothers me more than people parading around our ranch without permission, but I think that we need to carefully analyze how reasonable we are being. Private property laws don’t allow people to just appear on private land. Would we be better off standing on private property laws than assuming a perceived position of having something to hide?
We are proud of our farms and the hard work it takes to safely produce wholesome and quality food and fiber.  What are we hiding from? We have NOTHING to hide. We treat our animals humanely and we work hard to feed the world. However, the legislation proposed in Florida and the similar bill in Iowa make the agriculture industry seem pretty opaque.
What do you think?