Cow cover-up
Bill undermines confidence in farms
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Well, what do you know? The Utah House of Representatives has discovered a constitutional right to privacy.

For farm animals.

The House Friday passed and sent to the Senate HB187, a bill that would create a crime called "agricultural operation interference," and make violation of said statute a class A or, depending on the circumstances, a class B misdemeanor.

What's particularly troubling about the bill is that it defines "interference" as only one thing: taking an unauthorized photo, video or audio recording of a ranch, farm, chicken coop, etc.

It's curious that only those activities, not anything that normal people would think of as interference, like theft or sabotage, would be prohibited by this law. It cannot help but raise suspicion that some operators of some agricultural operations may be doing something that they don't want their neighbors, their customers or various law enforcement or regulatory agencies to know about.

Generally, this space is in favor of privacy on many levels. We are not ones to resort to the argument that if you have nothing to hide you won't mind strangers mucking about in your personal business.

But, when the sponsor of the measure, Vernal Republican Rep. John Mathis, makes it clear that his point is to fend off eco-extremists or animal rights agitators from sneaking a look into Utah livestock operations, there is reason to question the bill's true motives.

There have been instances of people sneaking videos of unlawful and unhealthy practices in slaughterhouses, butcher shops, etc., that exposed wrongdoing of a sort that raises valid questions about the safety of the food supply. A separate category of criminal offense that goes out of its way to criminalize this kind of whistleblowing does not boost public confidence in that very supply chain.

It is also doubtful that, as it now stands, HB187 would really make much difference. It does not — because, legally, it cannot — prohibit people from taking pictures or making recordings while standing on public property. It only applies to such snooping when it might occur on the farmer's property, and only when the offender has bugged the place, has been allowed onto the property and told not to take pictures or has already committed the crime of criminal trespass.

So the bottom line, once again, appears to be that members of the Utah Legislature are wasting their time, and our tax money, fiddling with bills that send a message, but don't stand up to legal, logical or sensible scrutiny.