HARRISBURG, Pa. — For years, covert images documenting animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses across the country have cast a harsh light on the meat and dairy industries.
Industry groups have responded by supporting efforts in several states that would make it illegal to secretly record livestock farms. And here in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Mike Brubaker has taken up the issue.
The Lancaster County Republican introduced a bill last session that would have made it a misdemeanor to record on a farm without an owner’s consent. But the lawmaker is taking a different approach this session.
On Wednesday, he unveiled a bill that would not forbid anyone from using a hidden camera at a farm or slaughterhouse. Nor would it prohibit a person from seeking employment at a farm under false pretenses.
All that it would do is require that anyone who videotapes or records animal abuse turn over a copy of the evidence to police.
Brubaker stressed that there is no time frame in which advocates must submit footage or photographs to law enforcement after recording abuse.
“This bill is logical, and it’s innovative. We are unaware of any other state that’s passed laws that attempt to restrict photographs to take this kind of approach,” he told reporters in his Harrisburg office.
Brubaker said he hopes his new proposal will satisfy people on both sides of the issue.
By requiring suspected animal abuse to be reported to the proper authorities, legislators can assure due process will be given to farmers and their operations, and animal cruelty or unlawful practices will be addressed.
“I do not want to see the inhumane treatment of animals, so if this is happening, law enforcement needs to investigate,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker’s bill, which has not been formally introduced, would make failing to turn over video or photos of abuse to police or posting them online an infraction punishable by a fine.
“Social networks are not a process by which you can hold someone legally accountable,” Brubaker said. “Where do we go when we believe that a child is being abused? Do we post that on the Internet? Or do we go to law enforcement officials?”
When images are shared publicly, he said, farmers can be impacted financially and their reputations can be tarnished by unsubstantiated claims.
Presently, state law offers no recourse for farm owners who are targeted by unauthorized photos or video taken on their property.
Brubaker said he trusts authorities will respond swiftly to reports of abuse and will make their findings public.
But the lawmaker cautioned that while some videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, the procedures could be perfectly in line with the law.
“Less people are familiar with farming practices than a few generations ago, and because of that, people have formed dramatically different opinions of what is humane treatment of animals and what is not,” he said.
Several other states have already proposed or enacted legislation that would criminalize the taking of pictures or videos on farming operations without permission.
Some bills offer immunity for reporting the abuse, but they contain time restrictions that animal rights groups have said would hinder their investigations.