FRANKFORT — A Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would make it a crime to film farm operations on private property without the owner's consent.
A spokesman for the Kentucky Farm Bureau said the measure is one of its priorities in this year's legislative session and is needed to protect farmers' property rights.
The Humane Society of the United States contends that the legislation, if enacted, would keep consumers in the dark about the sources of their food. A spokesman said that whistle-blowing employees who have made such videos have played a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions and environmental problems on industrial farms.
The Senate Agriculture Committee attached the legislation as a committee substitute to House Bill 222. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, initially would have set euthanasia standards for animal shelters.
The committee substitute added that a person could be subject to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine, for secretly recording farm operations on private property.
Jenkins said she opposes the change to her bill and would not call it for a vote in the House if the Senate approves it and sends it to the House for its consideration.
Jeff Harper, director of public affairs for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, said it's a shame that such legislation is needed to protect farmers.
"We are seeing a trend of this," he said.
Harper emphasized that the bill does not apply to law-enforcement officials and farm operations on public property.
Concerning the Humane Society's opposition to such bills, Harper said, "I would say to them that the care of livestock and poultry is the farmer's bottom line. The better they take of their animals, the better those animals are going to do when they go to market."
The goal of the Humane Society, Harper said, is the elimination of animal agriculture.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said secret videotaping "has been a problem all over the country."
Matt Dominguez, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said it is "no coincidence" that the "ag gag language" to HB 222 was added a month after a Humane Society investigation of an Owensboro hog farm.
In February, the Humane Society released footage from Iron Maiden hog farm, where workers fed ground-up piglet intestines to sows, possibly in violation of Kentucky regulations.
That investigation would not have been possible under the proposed law, he said.
Neither apparently would the undercover investigation of Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, released last week and partially filmed at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Marc Guilfoil, director of racing for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said the barns and stables of tracks are private property, not public.
Dominguez, of the Humane Society, said, "Instead of trying to clean up the bad behavior, they try to criminalize the messenger. They want to criminalize anyone who tries to speak against the horrors on factory farms as well as horse barns."
He said such bills are "bad for animal welfare, bad for food safety, bad for workers rights, and go to show how much the industry has to hide."
Ag gag laws were proposed in 15 states last year, and all failed, Dominguez said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a similar law, calling it constitutionally suspect. The Tennessee bill came after the Humane Society of the United States investigated Hall of Fame Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell. The investigation indicated that horses been beaten.
Haslam said last year that the Tennessee law could have made prosecution of animal cruelty more difficult.
Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.