This is a guest article by Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks.

As the direction of animal agriculture industry lobbyists, including chemical companies Monsanto and Dupont, lawmakers in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota have introduced bills that would criminalize whistle blower activities.  The bill in Minnesota is advanced by Rep. Rod Hamilton, who is past president of the Minnesota Pork Producers, seeks to label any such recordings as “eco-terrorism”.

Passing laws favoring Big Food is the newest industry strategy.  One of the more notorious earlier attempts was Monsanto’s campaign to pass bills prohibiting the labeling of milk as containing artificial hormones in 14 states across the country.  They failed everywhere except in Ohio – and that momentary success was overturned by the courts.  Monsanto is a driving force behind the new Iowa law.

In Florida, state Senator Jim Norman drafted his version of the bill at the behest of Simpson Farms which produces 21 million eggs annually.  Norman has been under investigation for failing to report a $500,000.00 industry gift to his wife used to buy a home in Arkansas without a mortgage.  I wonder if they are related to Wright County Egg Farms of IA, which had more than 5,000,000 eggs recalled because of a whistleblower.  If photos and videos had not been taken, imagine how many Americans may have been hospitalized or even died from E. coli?  These whistleblowers protected the health of the animals as well as humans.

Certainly the owner of the Florida farm has become concerned that the potential abuses on his farm could result in recall or even prosecution.  The fact that this large egg producer is promoting this bill, makes us wonder what goes on at his factory farm (CAFO) that makes him want to protect it from public scrutiny and whistleblowers.

The Florida bill would make it a felony for anyone to film or photograph farm activities without the farm owner’s written consent.  Norman said it’s targeted at animal activists who gain employment at farms to make undercover videos to post to the Internet.

Similar legislation is currently pending in Iowa, where a bill introduced by Rep. Annette Sweeney, a rancher herself, aims to prohibit individuals or groups from “interfering with an animal facility or crop operation.” The language defines distributing audio or visual recordings as interference, with first offenses charged as aggravated misdemeanor and any subsequent convictions carrying felony status.  Under the Minnesota bill, a person could be sentenced to 5 years in jail.

The bills provide that, “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.”

The bill also includes, “A person who enters onto 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.”

In Florida, the punishment for a first degree felony is (1) go to prison for anything up to life; (2) A fine of $10,000 or “any higher amount equal to double the pecuniary gain derived from the offense by the offender or double the pecuniary loss suffered by the victim”; (3) For violent career criminals, habitual felony offenders and three-time violent felony offenders it’s mandatory life imprisonment (the three strikes law).

This initially placed this proposed crime in the same bracket as murder and armed robbery.  Possible life in prison on the first offense and mandatory life in prison if you someone goes undercover three times?  Some scholars have opined that the potential arises for both law enforcement and hobbyist photographers to be charged as felons, facing up to 30 years in prison alongside those found guilty of murder and armed robbery.

After innumerable complaints, the law was diluted by reducing the charge of first degree felony to a first degree misdemeanor (one year prison, $1000 fine) and GoogleEarth was exempted, but the greenbelt provisions remained.

Worse yet, the laws of conspiracy (an agreement between two or more persons to engage in an unlawful or criminal act, or an act that is innocent in itself but becomes unlawful when done by the combination of actors) could easily apply.

The conspiracy laws could be used to prosecute editors, bloggers and owners of media outlets as well as non-profit animal protection groups.  Anyone who participates in the publication of those photos, who had any knowledge of the whistleblowers intent and published the photos or videos, free or for profit, could conceivably be prosecuted.  And we all know the food industry will stop at nothing to silence its critics.

Does this mean that a child, selling Girl Scout cookies who has entered the property to sell cookies without the knowledge and consent of the owner, has committed a first degree felony?

Is it a felony if one employee is hurt in an industrial accident with animals and another employee takes a picture of the accident scene without the owner’s knowledge and consent?  Would that employee (and the injured employee under a conspiracy theory) be prosecuted if the photos were used in a Worker’s Compensation hearing or submitted to an insurance company as a part of a claim?

Will the industry ask the government to extradite foreign reporters and photographers who take pictures and leave the country as our government is trying to do with the founder of Wikileaks?  Just how far will they go?

There are so many “what-if” factual scenarios.   For example, “what-if” a state trooper follows a speeding vehicle onto a farm to write a motor vehicle violation and his on-board video camera records abuse to farm animals?  Can that policeman be prosecuted if that video is obtained and used by the press under any freedom of information act?

“What-if” a reporter is invited onto the premises and starts to photograph animal abuses and the owner tells him to stop and demands that the photos, taken while the reporter was authorized, be deleted.  Does the withdrawal of consent permit the owner to demand the photos or later seek to prosecute the reporter who refuses to yield them to the owner?

Iowa’s House File 589 would make it a felony even for members of the news media to possess or distribute such images, despite the fact that we all know that a picture or a video is worth a thousand words.

“What-if” the owner claims that he or she only consented to favorable photos not unfavorable photos?  Is it a crime if the consent is withdrawn?  This withdrawal of consent in Iowa would be subject to penalties which include up to five years in prison and fines of up to $7,500.

It should not surprise anyone that the incredible amount of political contributions made by the food and chemical industries have given them the type of political might that allows the industry to push through laws protecting them from public scrutiny, irrespective of the constitutional rights of Americans.  Large American corporations misusing the political process for their own personal gain and self-preservation?  Is anyone shocked by this?

According to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, the price of cattle market futures dropped in response to a whistleblower video documenting severe abuse of dairy calves at E6 Cattle Company in Hart, Texas.

Video and photographs, shot covertly by an investigator who gained employment at the cattle company, shows workers bashing calves’ skulls with axes and hammers leaving injured but still-live animals in piles of carcasses, and neglecting those with illnesses, injuries, and wounds.

The video of E6 Cattle Company abuses is an ugly example of what goes on behind the scenes in the factory farm (CAFO) cattle industry.  According to the local district attorney, the hooves of some animals froze off during sub-zero temperatures causing them to walk on “nubs.”  See it yourself, but be forewarned is it is ugly and disgusting. While this video does not represent all ranchers, it is emblematic of the abuses commonly found on factory farms (CAFOs).

Editors Note: This video is extremely graphic and disturbing. Watch this at your own risk.

No Mercy – Calf Farm Cruelty Exposed from Mercy For Animals on Vimeo.

Update: It would appear that the video has been pulled. But, oops, I managed to find another copy:

Rep. Annette Sweeney, chief sponsor of the Iowa bill, told AP that the new bill would protect farmed animals and the food supply from undercover operatives who might inadvertently bring diseases into the facilities.  She must be referring to a “Typhoid Mary” of reporters spreading the truth around Iowa factory farms (CAFOs) instead of typhoid.

Senator Matt McCoy of Iowa countered that the bill is a blatant and “unconscionable” attempt by “well-funded” animal agriculture interests to abridge First Amendment rights, to “stop animal welfare activists” and keep abuses “behind closed doors.”

In order for a state legislature to pass a law limiting First Amendment rights, particularly free speech and a free press, that state must prove a “compelling state interest” under the Fourteenth Amendment in protecting the general public.  The classic law school example is yelling fire in a dark movie theater.  To do so would endanger patrons and is an unacceptable use of free speech.  These proposed laws do not protect the general public.

The purpose of these proposed laws is to protect a special class of people and companies whose only interest is to protect their financial rights and to avoid criticism and possible prosecution for their actions that violate FDA and USDA regulations – not to mention moral and ethical issues.  USDA inspection rules make many of the acts depicted in the videos a crime.

According to the rules of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, animals being prepared to be turned into meat must be able to walk to their slaughter.  This is to prevent the use of sick animals that may carry diseases such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy agent, which can cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans – not to mention countless other diseases.

It seems that this law is directed toward stopping whistleblowers from providing information to the FDA and USDA regarding violations of Food Safety rules, which is what happened at Wright County Egg Farms of IA when more than 500 million eggs were recalled.

Thankfully, this law is subject to issues of federal preemption which is defined as, “A doctrine based on the Supremacy Clause … that holds that certain matters are of such a national, as opposed to local, character that federal laws preempt or take precedence over state laws.  As such, a state may not pass a law inconsistent with the federal law.”

There are many different federal whistleblower laws including False Claims Act (FCA), Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and Dodd-Frank Act (DFA).  Since 1986, the False Claims Act has brought back more than $27 billion to the federal treasury, and has acted as a deterred to even more fraudulent activity.

Certainly any farmer or rancher receiving any federal subsidy for crops, using Monsanto Bt genetically modified corn, purchasing crop insurance from the USDA, receiving USDA loans or has any tangential involvement with federal funds is subject to preemption.

Does that mean that farmers who do not receive any tangential federal funds can avail themselves of the new law while farmers who receive some form of trickle down federal funds cannot?  It would be a denial of the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment for the state to be able to prosecute some alleged violators and not others based upon whether the acts were committed on a farm receiving federal monies or not.

It is our position that this trespassing law is preempted by the federal statutes including an application of the First Amendment right to free speech and a free press.  The U.S. government cannot prosecute the N.Y. Times for printing the Wikileaks documents received from Wikileaks and the state of Iowa cannot prosecute the N.Y. Times for printing photos of CAFOs and filthy egg ranches where appalling conditions impact the quality of food Americans eat daily.

The food industry would like you believe that this is about animal rights issues brought on by ultra-liberal groups such as PETA instead of whether the food you eat is contaminated by the reckless manner in which they farm animals on factory farms (CAFO).  Who can forget the mounds of manure, sick chickens and other atrocities committed at Wright County Egg Farms.

Consider that on January 10, 2011, the USDA recalled more than 226,400 pounds of ground beef.  On February 6, 2011, the USDA recalled more than 3,000 pounds of ground beef has been recalled because of possible E. coli contamination.

On March 8, 2011, the USDA recalled approximately 14,158 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli.  On March 22, 2011, the USDA recalled approximately 23,000 pounds of bologna products contaminated with E. coli.  On March 1, 2011, the USDA also recalled approximately 64,000 pounds of chicken and pork products.

This is an astonishing recall of more than 330,558 pounds of beef, chicken and pork from January to March 2011. Do we really want to protect the factory farm (CAFO) industry with this amount of recalls in just three months?

In a country where the general population and the federal government have decided to reward whistleblowers for exposing issues that cost Americans money, do we now want to backtrack on that policy and let a few politically manipulated state legislatures protect “cottage industries” labeled with histories of abuse?

While the industry mantra is that the photos and videos are “staged”, that argument defies credibility.  It would take a director of the quality of a Steven Spielberg to stage the photos and videos we’ve seen.  The factory farming industry in Iowa, Florida and Minnesota reminds us of the classic joke about the man found in bed with a naked woman by his wife.  No matter what the wife says about the naked woman in his bed, the man replies, “What woman. I don’t see any woman.”

The industry would like you to believe that the naked truth is not there.  Maybe that works at meetings of factory farmers, Monsanto and DuPont, but Americans know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes.  This may be the most flagrant case of an industry trying to criminally prosecute Americans to protect their misdeeds that we will see in a long time.  The truth about these issues must be exposed to the daylight of American eyes.

Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks, R.N., are the authors of award winning books – Arthritis, Inflammation, Gout, Crohn’s, IBD and IBS – How to Eliminate Pain and Extend your Life (Books and Authors 2010 Best Books in the Health, Diet & Reference Categories) and Mannie’s Diet and Enzyme Formula – A Change of Lifestyle Diet Designed for Everyone (Blogger News Net 2010 Best Health And Nutrition Book Award winner) available at HowToEliminatePain.com, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other booksellers around the world.

The authors’ latest book, It’s Not Your Fault – Weight Gain, Obesity and Food Addiction is now available at HowtoEliminatePain.com, Amazon and booksellers everywhere.

Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks are the co-hosts of Surviving the 21st Century with Simon Barrett on Blogger News Network on Saturdays at 10:00 A.M. PST/1:00 PM EST found at http://www.bloggernews.net or Blog Talk Radio.

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