Idaho’s proposed ag-gag law worse than media says

S.1337 goes far beyond criminalizing videos of Idaho CAFOs-
It’s a threat to outdoor travel and recreation-

By now readers might have received some alerts about S. 1337 which is before the Idaho legislature. It is being portrayed as a threat to documenting what goes on in concentrated animal feeding operations in Idaho. It is true that the bill would “make it a crime to simply photograph or videotape abusive, unsanitary or otherwise unethical activity on a farm. Anyone documenting such abuses could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined $5,000.” [taken from one such alert].

However, even a casual read of the actual text of this short piece of legislation reveals it goes light years beyond merely preventing access and photography of  large animal operations such as dairies or beef production. Nevertheless, that is what most opponents of the law are highlighting and what the bill’s supporters say too — the bill is about just these things . . . not so!

The bill provides a blanket prohibition on not only access for documenting conditions in CAFOs. It prohibits audio and video, and probably too, still photography of Idaho agriculture in the most general definition. This even seems to include your public lands, according to the bill.

It provides penalties for “interference with an ‘agricultural production facility’.”  That might sound like a dairy, for example, or perhaps some other structure, but no. It reads, “Agricultural production facility” means any structure or land, whether privately or publicly owned, leased or operated, that is being used for agricultural production.” [emphasis ours].

So then, what is the S.1337 definition of agricultural production?”  The bill says this [emphasis ours]

(a) “Agricultural production” means activities associated with the
production of agricultural products for food, fiber, fuel and other
lawful uses and includes without limitation:
(i) Construction, expansion, use, maintenance and repair of an
agricultural production facility;
(ii) Preparing land for agricultural production;
(iii) Handling or applying pesticides, herbicides or other chem-
icals, compounds or substances labeled for insects, pests, crops, weeds, water or soil;
(iv) Planting, irrigating, growing, fertilizing, harvesting or
producing agricultural, horticultural, floricultural and viti-
cultural crops, fruits and vegetable products, field grains,
seeds, hay, sod and nursery stock, and other plants, plant prod-
ucts, plant byproducts, plant waste and plant compost;
(v) Breeding, hatching, raising, producing, feeding and keeping livestock,
dairy animals, swine, furbearing animals, poultry,
eggs, fish and other
aquatic species, and other animals, animal
products and animal
byproducts, animal waste, animal compost, and
bees, bee products
and bee byproducts;

vi) Processing and packaging agricultural products, including
the processing and packaging of agricultural products into food
and other agricultural commodities;
(vii) Manufacturing animal feed; . . .”

Could a bill define agriculture any more expansively? Well at least the supermarket was not included.

For the purposes of this article, the most significant new criminal act is “Enters an agricultural production facility and, without the facil-
ity owner’s express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an
agricultural production facility’s operations; . . .

Recall that the bill defines an agricultural production facility as ” . . . any structure or land, whether privately or publicly owned, . . . .”

If you just now read the material above, even quickly, you have done more work than apparently any journalist reporting on this controversy and more than most of the membership of the Idaho Legislature. This writer even had a co-sponsor of the bill tell me that it only applied to dairies and similar things.

Agriculture is scattered about Idaho, especially the grazing of animals. As folks know well grazing leases occupy much of the public lands, the national forests and the like.

It is doubtful that this bill, if it becomes law, will be enforced vigorously for all these uses. There are simply not the law enforcement resources. However, it will be a perfect tool for harassment of out of the way travellers going down a gravel road or anyone approaching livestock, even in the remote mountain country. Nowadays, law enforcement can often quickly find out who you are from your license plate. Then a brief web search can allow that rural county sheriff to decide if you are someone worth investigating. Such a decision does not have to mean “wanted for. . .”

It is astonishing that both journalists and most of the organized opposition to this bill seem to have missed all of this.

So, the debate is taking place in the absence of incredibly important and easily available information. The bill easily passed the state Senate and has been reported to the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.

Photographers and travellers unknown to rural residents might need to take warning now. The law goes into effect as soon as passed and signed by Governor Otter.




  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    If you travel much in Idaho, you need to read this.

  2. Yvette Avatar

    I had an email come through today that reported on the Mercy for Animals video that showed the dairy worker sexually assaulting the dairy cow. That doesn’t even cover the horrific beatings to those dairy cows. So now the Idaho legislators are going to make certain these acts of bestiality and torture will happen with no threat of public exposure.

    While Idaho’s bill certainly seems to reek of fascism, they aren’t alone. There have been multiple states that have passed or tried to pass the Ag-gag bills. I guess we can thank the conservative ‘think tanks’ that write these bills and promote them to the state legislators. Sadly, many of these conservatives are parked in church every Sunday, yet they will sign on the line to ensure anyone that exposes the sexual assault and torture of animals is persecuted as a terrorist.

    Given that political direction post 9/11 these animal rights people are now targeted as terrorists. I am just beyond disgusted.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Yes, and while they target animals rights activists, the real terrorists slip through our borders.

      When did empathy and kindness become terrorism, and perversion and cruelty the norm?

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Ida Lupine wrote,

        “When did empathy and kindness become terrorism, and perversion and cruelty the norm?”

        There was another bill in the Idaho legislature (now withdrawn) that allowed people who are “sincerely religious” to discriminate against anyone with characteristics their religion didn’t like, such as gay, lesbian; Black folks, old people; unmarried couples, single women. You name it because the bill didn’t. It was a completely expansive bill for any kind of discrimination, but only for those determined or self-professed? to be “sincerely religious.”

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          Idaho and the West certainly don’t seem to want to extend their ideal of freedom to everyone, that’s for sure. 🙁

          1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan


            When conservatives talk about freedom, they generally mean economic freedom, not social freedoms. They also mean freedom for the wealthy and well born. They often mean freedom for private institutions, not for individuals.

    2. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      The key to maintaining the status quo when it comes to animal cruelty is to make sure the public does not see… turns my stomach to think that elected legislators not only turn a blind eye to cruelty but try and pass laws that would make it illegal to expose cruelty.

    3. Nancy Avatar

      “Like the livestock we raise, we’ve grown fat and sick, dependent on a bitches’ brew of drugs. We’ve got a choice to make, and it only means our lives: We can treat our animals better and heal our bodies in the bargain, or become the last of the planet’s finite resources gone hopelessly to seed”

      Read more:


  3. WM Avatar

    Takes about 3 minutes to read the text of the bill.

    The breadth of this thing is amazing, as Ralph states, and in many respects could deter the reporting of public health and safety agricultural matters affecting the general public. Absolute insanity!

    It is amazing the ID media haven’t at least reported accurately on its potential uses if passed. This would be a very, very bad law if passed in its currently drafted form.

    1. WM Avatar


      It should be noted that the scope of the bill would only apply if one enters or obtains records from an “agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation
      or trespass…”

      So, if you are recording audio or photographic images while not trespassing, say on public land (or on a public roadway) on which you have a right to be, this law would not seem to apply. On the other hand it does lower the bar for some of the other stuff, though it appears one must “knowingly” be engaged in the bad conduct. And, an award of “twice the actual damages” as restitution is a bit stiff.

      There are a few defenses, but it’s still a really stupid, over-reaching, bill.

      1. JB Avatar

        It should also be added that the law requires a showing of intent to do harm (“with the intent to cause…”). This is important because, as prosecutors know, proving intent is next to impossible.

        Still, I agree that this law is…well…stupid.

        1. Dan Avatar

          I really do not like the word stupid, but this proposed law is well…stupid!

          This is the golden rule at it’s worst, he who has the gold rules….

          For years and years I have watched a rancher completely destroy Hatter creek, a trib to the Palouse River. I’ve wanted to document the destruction. I could easily take pictures from the county road. So, I wonder if I took pictures from the county road with the intent of showing the abuses of water quality if I would be breaking this ridiculous proposed law.

      2. Nancy Avatar

        So WM, a HUGE step backwards about animal welfare by those that continue to claim they care so much about the “product” they raise, slaughter, abuse, to feed the rest of the country, world?

        1. WM Avatar

          Actually, Nancy, viewed a little more objectively, it’s a line of defense against misrepresentation that some animal welfare organizations are known to assert with their selective recordings. There is obviously some terrible stuff that goes on, and it should be uncovered and bad agricultural producers should be stopped. But there are also some instances that get more than a little spin when told by someone pushing a particular agenda.

          Recall just two years ago Barnum and Bailey/Ringling Circus was awarded a $9M settlement for wrongful allegations of animal abuse. The settling party, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals paid big time to dismiss the suit, for their antics. I think B&B/Ringling would be an agricultural production facility under this bill, and ASPCA would have people going to jail for their antics, along with a monetary settlement (in that instance it was the federal RICO statute that got them). The other bad part, is that if there really was abuse in that instance (hypothetically if in ID), ASPCA people would still go to jail for their conduct.



          You make all good points – especially the “intent” element. I should have mentioned all the elements, as well as the other bad conduct, as you did, for which there is already a criminal/misdemeanor or civil cause of action without this bill.

          As for the First Amendment aspect, that is a complicated topic with multiple variables. It also seems there is also a legitimate underlying desire to maintain privacy in business and discourage the uninvited from digging too deep, avoid tortious interference with contractual relations, potential espionage (consider covert recording of proprietary processes), harassment, and a lot of other stuff that is legitimate for a business to protect. Trespassers, those who misrepresent themselves to an employer, or those who threaten are frowned upon.

          Putting the shoe on the other foot, suppose someone posing as an electrical meter reader (who may legally come into your yard to read the meter), but really isn’t, started filming your kids at play in the yard, and started telling your wife or you that you weren’t treating them right. Maybe you should feed them more, dress them warmer, or not allow them to play on the dangerous swing set.

          It is a bit different, but the point is still one of privacy, balanced against a perceived welfare interest by someone who doesn’t really have a right to tell you what to do. And, as we have discussed here before animals mostly don’t have many rights independent of their owners (subject to a patchwork of animal abuse statutes).

          1. JB Avatar

            All good points, WM. It seems the impetus for the legislation is that big ag has been caught with its pants around its ankles (figuratively speaking) recently, and would like to put a stop to it. I certainly can’t blame them for being protective of their business. But we need to remember that animals don’t have rights, while my kids do. I think the net effect of this legislation would be to allow animal abuses to continue behind closed (and legally protected) doors. That’s kind of scary.

            1. Louise Kane Avatar
              Louise Kane

              I certainly can’t blame them for being protective of their business. But we need to remember that animals don’t have rights, while my kids do. I think the net effect of this legislation would be to allow animal abuses to continue behind closed (and legally protected) doors. That’s kind of scary.

      3. JB Avatar

        WM: Seems the key term here is “misrepresentation” (the rest of the banned actions–threat, force, etc. are already potentially illegal). So I wonder if courts would view this as an infringement of 1st amendment rights? It seems the clear intent of the bill is to make investigative journalism –which may require “misrepresentation”–illegal?

  4. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    It still reads as though a regular employee found to be (‘intentionally damaging the livestock’) could be prosecuted also. Beatings, inappropriate contact, excessive violence could easily be found to be intentional, unless the perpetrator was found to be mentally ill, and in both cases the net result would firing. But of course, how does one know the facility is doing what they claim without watchdogs and whistleblowers.

    1. WM Avatar

      Ida, I’m not quite sure what you are saying. I don’t know if you have ever seen a heifer being artificially bred. It is a common practice in animal husbandry. So is the process of obtaining the bull’s contribution. The bull never sees any of his lady friends, and there may be many heifers bred from him, as compared to a one on one breeding encounter (which has a greater potential for injury, as a side-note). Some folks might call these processes animal abuse to the heifer and the bull, and to someone who doesn’t know what is going on, they might get that impression. Do animal rights folks have the right to misrepresent themselves or trespass in obtaining and recording information about these procedures, or interject themselves into a legitimate business activity, even though they are legal and regulated, and common practice on the farm, or the agricultural college campus, where it might be done?

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        No, I think that real abuse and perverse behavior would be easy to distinguish.

      2. Yvette Avatar

        I feared someone would bring up how cows are artificially bred, and somehow justify the sexual assault that happened.

        WM, there is a difference in artificial insemination and sexually assaulting a dairy cow. You know, that comes way to close to saying since a woman has had sex then she should be okay with rape. I know that isn’t what you’re saying. I’ve read enough of your posts to know that isn’t what you mean, but please do think about it. There is something so heinous to the type of abuse that happened in this video that we shouldn’t be having a discussion about anything other than anyone that beats or sexually assaults these living beings should be taken off of the streets and removed from society. There is no justifying sexual assault or severe abuse.

        1. WM Avatar


          I have not seen the video to which you refer. But, I have since watched the ALEC piece linked by Kathleeen above, and am along time fan of Bill Moyers. This piece is no different.

          And, my apologies for being potentially insensitive or offending with the example I mention. Atrocities of animal (and human) abuse should not be shielded from investigation, though my point was there SOMETIMES are legitimate business interests to be protected as against change agents who have their own agenda (strident animal rights groups who would simply put an end to meat and dairy production).

          The question is where to find the balance. This very aggressive and comprehensive ALEC type law for ID is not it, though if Ralph’s predictions are correct it will pass and be signed into law, as similar versions have in a few others states.

          1. Yvette Avatar

            WM, you hit the nail on the head. “Where do you find balance.”

            These days, it seem balance is heading for the endangered list.

            This article reminded me that I need to start buying my beef from a local butcher that only uses beef from local ranches. Luckily, I live where I have that option.

    2. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Well, as long as these industries need to hire people, you can’t rule out someone who would go to management and the authorities concerning abuse of animals, who is not connected to animal welfare groups. You would think that the treatment of livestock would be of paramount importance to these companies, as they are their livelihood. It comes inherent with abuse at best, but over and above the ‘norm’ is what we’ve been seeing and causing outrage. You’d think these companies would care about their reputation. Animals do have that basic right, to be protected from abuse and cruelty.

  5. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    My other concern is the growing of GMO crops in the National Wildlife Refuges.

  6. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Any farming operation that involves large numbers of livestock tends to get cruel when an attempt is made to produce more animals or milk at a lesser cost. Corners get cut and the animal’s welfare becomes secondary to profit.
    The large dairies in Idaho came here from California when the California dairy operators found that Idaho had fewer laws and restrictions regarding animal waste disposal and a lack of animal abuse regulations.
    Most of the employees of these large dairies are illegal mexicans. They are forced to work long hours for little pay. They take out their frustrations by abusing the cows.

    1. WM Avatar

      Larry Thorngren,

      Yet another reason to ramp up immigration enforcement, and reasonable reform – send these guys home to stand in line and come back legally. I suppose there is another motive by ALEC supporters (since it often is they who hire illegals) is to keep out those who would photograph/record the presence of some of these illegals doing the work, and thus to not be a candidate for an ICE raid.

      1. WM Avatar

        Hypothetical: An undercover animal rights advocate obtains employment at a suspect bad actor meat processing facility where animals are abused by workers. Advocate decides best way to shut them down is record what goes on, then turn over video/photos to ICE or cooperating local authorities under the federal Safe Communities Act, showing possible illegals from Mexico, El Salvador or wherever, doing the work. Feds review the video and determine there is a reasonable basis to raid (no unlawful “search and seizure” legal issues because it was done and provided by a private individual). So, they conduct a raid, detain the illegals or even scare them from coming in to work. Producer has no workers/higher labor costs for replacements, fines, etc., and maybe gets shut down.

        Agricultural producer solution: Seek state laws to deter or prevent the folks who would trespass and covertly record whatever goes on in your ag business for ANY reason.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan


    All of a sudden the local media have become more interested and there are many national media stories on the bill. They are sensing some of the details and broader implications

  8. Kathleen Avatar

    “Ultimately four Republican senators–Meridian’s Clifford Bayer and Russ Fulcher, Sandpoint’s Shawn Keough and Nampa’s Curt McKenzie, joined six Democrats in voting no. Pocatello Democratic Sen. Roy Lacey joined 22 Republicans in voting yes, moving the bill to the Idaho House.”

    This is particularly rich: “Caldwell GOP Sen. Jim Rice echoed Patrick and dubbed the measure an “anti-attack the innocent bill.””

    The “innocent,” of course, are the production units…er, I mean, animals. The dynamic duo of speciesism and capitalism rules the day in Idaho…and everywhere.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I talked with Lacey, my state senator, who is normally a state senator I like. He was impervious to serious discussion on the bill. I did pick up that he owned cattle.

    1. WM Avatar

      Came across video of debate on S.1337 in the ID Senate. Should be more consideration on how the language in this bill might apply to a fairly wide range of situations – some of them potentially worthy of deterring access of people intending to do bad in privately owned agricultural production facilities (a wheat field or grain storage silo were a couple examples, though one wonders if existing laws on the books might deal with such situations – except the 2X damages part). That’s the trouble. This bill needs surgical precision to deal with some problems, while not completely closing off agricultural production facilities to some valid investigative pursuits. Current language uses a broad sword, where a scalpel might be more appropriate.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan


        Thanks for finding this and posting it. It seems the opponents were quite well informed about the bill’s defects. Well, folks can listen and decide.

  10. Kyle Gardner Avatar
    Kyle Gardner

    These “ag-gag” laws reveal who the real terrorists are in this great land. Fortunately, the public is getting wise to these entirely authoritarian “laws.” Such legislation is not the will of the people, but the desire of a small faction of interests who are merely interested in enhancing their bottom line. So-called “anti-defamation” laws aimed at suppressing advocacy and free speech undercuts the legitimacy of the political process. Keep an eye on ALEC-inspired legislation at state and local levels of government and expose them whenever possible.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Kyle Gardner,

      It is flat out a Koch Brothers bill from ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). I see that its original sponsor in the Idaho Senate, Jim Patrick, actually has a position in ALEC. “Sen. Jim Patrick (R-25), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force Member.” He was probably looking for an incident to drop this bill in the hopper. It began in the committee he chaired.

      For more on ALEC politicians.

      It is kind of like the Koch Brothers have their own political party.

      1. Kyle Gardner Avatar
        Kyle Gardner

        Thanks for the reply/links Ralph. SourceWatch is a great site for tracking nonsense. I’ve tracked some of ALEC’s stench for a while now and their embeddedness at the state level is truly frightening – they are all about removing any and all hurdles to business activities, even if it means muzzling real or potential public protest. What’s more, many of the Koch-inspired proposals are inserted into legislative processes with little notice and practically no useful public hearing. Gotta keep our eyes on these folks, expose them where/when we can and never drop our guard.

        Keep up the good work!

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          Kyle Gardner,

          Thank you, Kyle.

          You wrote,

          “I’ve tracked some of ALEC’s stench for a while now and their embeddedness at the state level is truly frightening.”

          That is why they love state’s rights so much. They can take over states — the small population, non-competitive states.

          When the Koch Brothers and allies have control of the federal governhment, we will hear no more about states rights.

      2. WM Avatar

        ++It’s kind of like the Koch Brothers have their own political party.++

        Well, it is for sure they have their own think tank, the CATO Institute. They started it with a couple others, funded it and after some 30 or so years there has been movement toward more independent libertarian views of their work. This resulted in an attempted take-over of the Board of Directors, and a resulting settlement. These guys continue to be dangerous on whatever field of politics/business they play, and with evermore obscurity of their widely rangeing tentacles.

    2. mareks vilkins Avatar
      mareks vilkins


      and read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values”

  11. Nancy Avatar

    Europe heading in the same direction – factory farming:

    “If you ask David Landry if his robot farm is profitable, he smiles and says “yes.” If you ask whether he thinks his cows have a dignified life, his smile freezes, but his eyes give him away. “They are quiet, they have music, they are doing fine,” he says”

  12. Jane Avatar

    And when will Idaho start burning witches.


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Ralph Maughan