During a week that included the latest Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) undercover video release, another bill surfaced in a state legislature to address such tactics. Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill (LB915) that would tighten requirements for animal abuse reporting. The Nebraska Senate’s Agriculture Committee held hearing on the issue on Jan. 31.
Sen. Tyson Larson, O’Neill, Neb., introduced the legislation, which would shorten the time that a person could report animal abuse, abandonment, cruelty or neglect to 12 hours. There is currently a 24-hour window in Nebraska. Larson said he wrote the bill to address the issue of animal activists who hold documentation of mistreatment, often for days, weeks or months, before reporting it to authorities.
As an example, HSUS admitted that the undercover video that it released this week was shot in November 2011. That situation is still under review.
“Animal activist groups routinely use images of abused animals in their fundraising materials,” Larson said. “Members of these groups are responsible for reporting these instances instead of using them for their own gain. This (legislative) approach ensures that any perpetrators of animal abuse are properly investigated and that the welfare of the animals is the top priority.”
Larson, who grew up on a ranch, said, "99.9 percent of farmers are doing things the right way."
According to the bill, any person submitting a report of animal abuse would be required to include all documentation including video, photographs or audio that is evidence of the alleged abuse. Failing to report animal abuse within the designated timeline would be a Class IV felony.
A second provision of the bill also would make it a crime to obtain employment at an animal facility with the intent to disrupt the businesses normal operations. This would include misrepresenting ones intent upon applying for employment. Violations would be a Class IV felony.
While the Nebraska Senate Ag Committee took no immediate action, this is another example of state lawmakers attempting to address practices they say are not really about animal care, rather such actions are focused on garnering public and political influence and fundraising.
Iowa lawmakers have a somewhat similar bill that has been amended and is under consideration in the Senate. Introduced by Democratic Sen. Joe Seng and Republican Sen. Tim Kapucian, the bill would make it illegal to take a job or gain access to an animal facility under false pretenses. Earlier provisions about outlawing videotaping were removed because of questions legality. A similar video measure failed in Florida’s statehouse.
Kapucian, a former livestock producer from Keystone, Iowa, said some measure is needed because animal activists are trying to unfairly portray producers and entire industries. "The people that are doing these activities are working toward a meatless society," Kapucian said. "Their whole goal is to put a producer in a bad light."
Others claim that such legislative proposals are intended to hide animal abuse from the public.
Jeff Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said animal abuse investigations can take weeks and sometimes months to establish a pattern of behavior strong enough to trigger a law enforcement investigation.
PETA has conducted more than 300 investigations during the past 30 years, according to Kerr.
The Chicago-based Mercy for Animals organization has distributed several videos in recent years.
"We have contacted the legislators directly that have been making these false and libelous claims about these videos being misleading," Nathan Runkle, MFA’s executive director, told Omah.com. "We've asked them to produce evidence, and none of them have provided supporting evidence, and that's because it doesn't exist."
However, Iowa Select Farms was the subject of an MFA undercover video, and company spokesperson Jen Holtkamp pointed to an assessment by Anna Johnson, Iowa State University animal well-being expert, who that found no instances of abuse in that case.
"It is clear to us that these activist organizations try to mislead and manipulate the public's perception of animal agriculture," Holtkamp said in a statement.