SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave final approval Wednesday a bill intended to prohibit interference with agricultural operations.
HB187, co-sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, is intended to prohibit trespassing at private agricultural operations to record images or sound from an agricultural operation or seeking employment under false pretenses with the intent of making such recordings.
Farmers, ranchers and people who operate processing plants “need to know who’s coming on their property because of their food safety,” said Hinkins during Senate debate Wednesday. Hinkins, R-Orangeville, Senate sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is primarily a trespassing prohibition.
“We really need to know whose coming and going because there’s a lot of terrorists out there,” Hinkins said.
Animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals “create wars” in places like rural Utah “in order to fill their war chests with money.”
The bill targets people who intentionally seek employment in agricultural operations “who have no reason to be there except espionage, to spy on the operation,” Hinkins said in earlier debate. The bill establishes misdemeanor penalties for recording images or sounds without permission of the operator or intentionally seeking employment at an agricultural operation under false pretenses, such as recording information.
But some senators have concerns that whistleblowers would be caught up in the bill’s provisions if they witness food safety or animal cruelty on farms or processing plants.
“If a person actually working for them seen something that is unsound animal practices, he would be protected under the bill,” Hinkins said
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said the bill had taught him a great deal about the fear in the food industry being free to operate “without being bullied, quite frankly, by some very militant organizations.”
“There isn’t a bill I receive more email from on than this particular bill. It’s been from California all the way to Paris,” Davis said.