Florida lawmaker wants to make farm photos illegal

Along with mountains of oranges, tomatoes, and sugar, Florida’s branch of Big Ag Inc. is a reliable producer of bad news. Whether it’s the fight over proto-slavery conditions for its tomato workers, the push to perfect genetically modified oranges, or the outrage of the crony capitalist “solutions” to the environmental degradations of sugar plantations, it seems like there’s always something rotten in the state of Florida. Oh, and did I mention that Florida also has a shockingly low number of organic farms?

So I am not surprised to learn that a creative (not to mention unconstitutional and idiotic) solution to the grave problems with factory farms should arise in the Sunshine state:

SB 1246 by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, would make it a first-degree felony to photograph a farm without first obtaining written permission from the owner. A farm is defined as any land “cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals or the storage of a commodity.”

Media law experts say the ban would violate freedoms protected in the U. S. Constitution. But Wilton Simpson, a farmer who lives in Norman’s district, said the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” involving farm operations.

The “bill” was apparently inspired by the successful undercover videos produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society. But mostly it was inspired by rank stupidity. It doesn’t take a close reading of the Constitution to know you can’t make photographing private property from a distance illegal.

Really, this is about the tendency in the food industry and, sadly, even in our government to believe that transparency and knowledge are the enemy of a functioning food system. People must not know how animals are slaughtered and processed. People must not know the nature and safety of all the chemicals involved in agricultural and food production and processing. People must not know if food is genetically modified. This belief now appears to under-gird the very logic of the American industrial food system.

So, with that as a foundational principle, 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. I’m not concerned that this bill is anything but DOA. What we need to learn from this sorry episode is that Big Ag’s answer to reform is denial, obfuscation, and ignorance. You know what? I’m still not inspired.

But, you want to know WHY? Why they don’t want factory farms exposed? Do you want to know WHY we raise our own birds?  Don’t hide your eyes from what happens on factory farms. It will take every one of us to make this system change. Below: Last spring, a Humane Society of the United States investigator, posing as an employee, got a camera into an egg factory to film conditions there. If Iowa lawmakers have their way, such muckraking will be illegal.

Tom Laskawy is a writer and a media & technology consultant who thinks that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. He twitters and blogs at Grist and at Beyond Green about food policy, alternative energy, climate science and politics as well as the multiple and various effects of living on a warming planet.

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