There is a proposed law working its way through the Florida legislature, that would make it illegal to photograph or film farms without the permission of the farmer. The proposed law, that would take effect in July, reads:
A person who enters onto a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree...
A person 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 without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree...
This law seeks to curtail the activities of undercover videogarphers posing as farm workers, documenting the horrific treatment of animals as shown in the above Humane Society video. While media law experts have pointed out that such a law is unconstitutional, some local farmers in Florida defend the law as reported in the Florida Tribune:
Wilton Simpson, a farmer who lives in Norman's district, said the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the "intellectual property" involving farm operations.
Simpson, president of Simpson Farms near Dade City, said the law would prevent people from posing as farmworkers so that they can secretly film agricultural operations.
In a surprising twist to the story, the proposed law has raised the most concern among legitimate photogaphers and stock photo enthusiasts, or "croparazzi," as the New York Times has dubbed them. I count myself as an avid amateur croparazzi, so I share in those concerns, and more generally see this as a big step in the wrong direction for the American farm community.
From what I have seen, there is a persecution complex that has taken hold in some segments of American agriculture that is not serving it well. I hear farmers say there are under attack by extremists and people who are ignorant about real farm practices. I hear passionate resentments expressed by ag leaders that non-farmers, like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, have unfairly painted American agriculture in a negative light. So on the one hand U.S. consumers are dismissed as ignorant, but then when consumers show interest in the actual practices of U.S. farms, like the use of gestation crates for pigs, the farm community comes up with a law like the one in Florida, that essentially says, "Our farm practices are none of your business."
If I could sit down with the Florida Farm Bureau I would explain that U.S. consumers are actually very interested in the practices of the farms that bring food to their tables. The local food movement, concerns about the environment, and yes, movies like Food Inc., are rapidly changing the consumer landscape. And this movement is only just beginning to hit the mainstream. The presenting issue is not that consumers are ignorant, the problem is that they are actually very interested, and in some cases they don't like what they are finding. What the Florida Farm Bureau should really be afraid of is not guerilla reporters taking undercover video, but consumers passing up your products at the grocery store because of unacceptable farming practices. Trying to cover-up unacceptable practices is a losing proposition in today's information age.
Instead of reacting defensively, giving consumers and those interested in food production practices a metaphorical middle finger and a threat of 30 years of jail, why not clean up your act and open your doors to let people in. And if there is nothing to clean up, then all the better. Show consumers that the Humane Society video shown above is inaccurate and unfair. Create ways to bring people onto the farms to see what's going on. Follow the lead of the #agchat folks on Twitter who are working hard to get out the real stories of farms and farmers.
The proposed bill has been so widely panned that the Florida Farm Bureau has stepped in to do damage control. They are supposedly working on revising the legislation to address concerns about roadside or aerial photography, and to ease the potential 30 year jail sentence currently attached to the bill. Unfortunately, they are defending the basic premise of the law, even though no one has cited a single instance of anyone doing malicious undercover filming at Florida farms.
After the jump you can see some of my favorite "croparazzi" shots from the Inland Northwest.