Priorities? You ask about legislative priorities. Obviously, you refer to the insidious threat of pasture paparazzi — the surreptitious skulks threatening unwitting farm animals.
Thankfully, our state legislators are not so intent on ridding the state of school teachers, immigrants, growth management, gun regulations and the Everglades that they’ve ignored this great looming menace to Elsie the Cow.
Senate Bill 1246 makes it a first-degree felony for anyone 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” to do so without written consent.
The bill banishes any naïve assumption about a traveler along a country road aiming his Nikon at a pastoral scene with grazing livestock. Plainly, these photographers are undercover provocateurs, out to sabotage Florida agriculture. And, if this bill passes, they’ll be felons.
Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa told the Tampa Tribune that his bill, however broadly written, was aimed at undercover animal-rights activists who might secretly photograph or videotape farm conditions and post unsettling images on the Internet. “It’s been a problem nationally," Norman told the Tribune. “I’m talking about an assault on the agriculture industry.”
Norman’s bill would keep consumers blissfully unaware of conditions inside the factory farms that have been targeted by undercover operatives from groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA responded that Floridians might be better served by a bill requiring “cameras in the slaughterhouses so people can see where their food actually comes from.” That, of course, would be about as unpalatable as a video allowing people to see where laws come from.
But Norman has an irrefutable argument. Animals raised in factory farms live their short lives in such obscene cruelty, crammed in tiny spaces amid their own filth, pumped up with drugs, unable to exercise, or often just to turn about, that it would hardly do to allow the public to make a link between those awful conditions and Junior’s kiddie meal.
The truth would be devastating to agri-business. But however discomfiting Norman might find these undercover videos (http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/default2.aspx ) his bill raises some daunting constitutional issues.
Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee has moved to protect Florida’s food supply from other meddlers. According to a committee analysis, Senate Bill 366 would prohibit local governments from regulating the “nutritional content and marketing of foods offered in public lodging establishments and public food service establishments.”
The Senate wants to make sure Florida towns don’t go messing with kiddie meals. The senators, with a nudging from lobbyists representing the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, are afraid that the Florida towns might be inspired by some local ordinances passed in California. The city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, among others, have prohibited those irresistible give-ways toys packaged in children’s meals unless fast food joints lower their nutritionally insane levels of calories, fat and sodium they’ve been pumping into youngsters.
For good measure, maybe Florida should make it a felony to videotape a fat, whiny, squawking child shoveling greasy chicken nuggets down his gullet. Talk about an assault on the industry.