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Sorry, PETA: Undercover farm videos may become outlawed

Holstein cows stand in a field at a farm near Nairn in northern Scotland August 4, 2010.

David Moir/Reuters

Imagine not being able to pull out a camera and take a snapshot of Nelly the cow in a country field or a flock of chickens waddling by.

No, it's not your kid's worst nightmare at the petting zoo this March Break. It's a series of proposed laws in the United States that would make it illegal - and punishable by prison time - to take a photo or video of farm animals. Even from the road.

The bills are designed to protect farms and agribusinesses from undercover videos and other images used to slam the industry. Like, say, the film Food Inc.

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A group called the Animal Agricultural Alliance (AAA) applauded the idea:

"It is imperative that activists be held accountable for their actions to undermine farmers, ranchers and meat processors through use of videos depicting alleged mistreatment of animals for the purposes of gaining media attention and fundraising - all in an effort to drive their vegan agenda," the AAA said in a press release quoted on an agriculture news site.

A number of activists and observers are alarmed, of course. Foodie New York Times writer Mark Bittman posted this site to Twitter, which pokes some fun at the issue.

But, it's also a glimpse of a future where gory images of cow slaughters and crammed poultry barns dry up - whether the laws pass or not. According to writer Mike Licht, the AAA is hoping to train farmers to spot a pesky investigate reporter or PETA member:

"The outfit is holding a security workshop with topics like 'Blueprint for identifying potential employee imposters/activists,' 'Working with law enforcement and prosecutors to keep imposters out' and 'OK - so you hired an imposter/activist - video at 10!' Unsurprisingly, the media are not invited."

What happens if these ideas catch on? Is it proof that agribusiness has everything to hide? Or are farmers within their rights to seek more privacy?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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