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As you probably know, two states are in the process of weighing legislation that would effectively ban animal rights activists from gaining secret access to farms in order to produce undercover films.

The legislation has received mixed reviews, for different reasons. Many farmers in those states contend they need to protect themselves from radical vegan interests that seek to end animal agriculture. The ones I spoke with last week in Iowa told me they’re tired of being used for political campaigns and fundraising.

Timely reports

One of their frustrations is that groups often do not submit their findings until weeks or months later, to coincide with a particular campaign or televised event.

Farmers tell me they want to know about abuse as soon as possible, and many have policies in place that require workers to report such abuse, so it can be dealt with.

They’re also worried that a person who will deceive them won’t have the best interests in mind for the animals they’re entrusted to care for.

Large and small farmers alike say they have serious biosecurity concerns. They’re worried what kinds of viruses and bacteria some of these undercover videographers could be bringing onto the farm, if they don’t follow the farm rules in the first place.

Of course, the idea of banning secret and deceptive videos doesn’t sit well with animal rights groups, especially Humane Society of the United States, Animal Sanctuary and Mercy for Animals.

This trio of vegan organizations — and others like them — are worried they could be days away from surrendering one of their best marketing tools — undercover videos and pictures.

In perspective

HSUS maintains that agribusiness wants to “criminalize those who shine a spotlight on the inhumane realities of factory farming.” I say it’s the other way around.

While “what’s right is right,” and “what’s wrong is wrong” — it is profoundly “wrong” to lie to get on these farms and break the farms’ policies in order to produce anti-livestock videos intended to defame the farmer and his industry.

Rights and responsibilities

As a member of the media, I respect the first amendment and its provision for “freedom of the press.” It’s why I, and other reporters, can do the work we do. I don’t like anything that even looks like an infringement on my right to information — pictures, videos or whatever.

But I understand that freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, like all of our freedoms, come with responsibilities, and that a freedom is not a free ticket to print and say anything we wish.

If I lied to get onto a farm, broke the farm’s business rules, took pictures of only sick animals, manure and death, and then edited that into a commercial designed to tell the world that animal agriculture is wrong — well, I wouldn’t expect to be friends of the farm community either.

Different results

As it is, I’ve never once been turned away from a farm with my camera and notebook, or my sound recorder. In fact, farmers often invite me back, and I can go places on the farm activists and most reporters can’t.

And let me tell you, I don’t just write positive, fluffy farm stories. I also write about food recalls, disease outbreaks, animals that die as the result of barn fires and vandals, and yes, issues of mistreatment and neglect.

But it’s ridiculous to think that a farmer — of any size operation — would be open to allowing an activist onto his farm (a private business, by the way) with a known history and agenda of defaming and giving false light to his work.

I don’t know what will come of this legislation. The people of Iowa and Florida will have to decide. But farmers have a right to protect their rights — and one of those is to their personal property and place of living and doing business.

If that means a closed door to people who lie, misrepresent and seek to end animal agriculture — well — watch your step, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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