DES MOINES, Iowa -- A bill making it a felony to produce and distribute videos showing animal abuse on farms was approved by the House and a similar bill approved by a Senate committee Thursday morning.
Proposed penalties include up to five years in prison and fines of up to $7,500.The Senate Agriculture Committee passed House File 589 unanimously. It will now go to the full Senate for debate.The bill passed the House by a vote of 65 for and 27 against. Nine Democrats voted in favor of the bill.Animal rights activists said Iowa would be the first state to approve such restrictions, although Florida is considering similar legislation.Rep. Annette Sweeney, the bill's sponsor, said she believes it will pass in Senate because its not a partisan issue, its about the Iowa's food supply, which she said affects us all.Sweeney said the bill will protect livestock. An amendment took out protections for animal companions. Commercial breeders, those that sell to pet stores, would still be protected under bill.Animal rights groups are upset about the bill saying it targets animal abuse whistleblowers. Some Iowa farmers said Monday that those people are the criminals and are giving the animal industry a bad name.Sweeney said the videos aren't just a public relations nightmare for the industry, but they've also sparked bioterrorism fears among farmers.“Anybody generally coming onto your place with farm animals, and what they might have a disease on their person, we want to make sure who is coming on and off our property,” Sweeney said.“For every one farmer we feed 155 people and so it’s very important to keep our food source so we can keep feeding the nation,” said Sweeney.She said the videos discredit Iowa's farm industry and create biosafety fears among farmers.“The problem is with some of those videos that they are staged. They come into a facility and they abuse the animals and that’s what we want to stop. We want to stop animal abuse,” said Sweeney.Some lawmakers who opposed the bill said they're concerned about animal cruelty not being reported.“If something is really happening out there and someone takes a legitimate pictures of something happening, I think they should have a right to do that and not feat that they could be prosecuted,” said Rep. Jim Lykam.At a press conference, animal rights activist Matt Rice showed pictures of animal abuse he said the legislation would shelter. Rice calls the bill a threat to animal welfare and freedom of press and speech.“Legislations should focus on strengthening animal cruelty laws, not prosecuting those who blow the whistle on animal abuse,” said Lykam.Sweeney said the bill doesn't turn a blind eye to animal cruelty but ensures the safety of animals and food in Iowa.“If you ever suspect any kind of animal abuse or anything that you might see that concerns you, go to the proper authorities,” said Sweeney.
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