The current status of the Iowa bill that criminalizes individuals who produce undercover videos on “agricultural operations” without permission remains pending, as House representatives (who already approved the legislation) wait for a vote on the corresponding Senate bill.
Examiner.com did a Q&A with the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Annette Sweeney, who seems to think it makes more sense to hold strict penalties over people’s heads to keep them from secretly documenting wrongdoing, rather than instill provisions that would eliminate the need for undercover videos in the first place. Her answers imply that whistleblowers have an effective outlet for speaking up, when history shows that’s often not the case. Frequent retaliation against workers who try to expose abuse shows the industry trend of keeping these complaints under wraps.
It’s no surprise then to see the list of lobbyists in favor of this anti-whistleblower bill; they are the usual suspects whose profits are at stake if problems are exposed publicly. In addition to the state’s big agriculture industry associations (Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers, Iowa Cattleman’s Association, etc.), biotechnology corporations like Monsanto and DuPont also support the legislation.
In fact, Monsanto has more facilities in Iowa than in any other state in the country, with more than 25 offices. The company is heavily invested in the bill’s outcome because “crop operations” are also covered, which would apply to Monsanto’s seed houses, pesticide manufacturing plants and research facilities throughout Iowa. The biotech and crop chemical giant wouldn’t want any undercover videos produced on its clock, apparently.
That’s a bit ironic, however, given the fact that Monsanto investigators are notorious for trespassing on farmers’ property and going to extreme measures to produce evidence of seed patent infringement, including posing as land mappers or even joining a local Alcohol Anonymous group to gain the farmers’ trust and gain video access to their fields. Talk about undercover.
Of course, legislators (in industry’s back pocket) have already incorporated exceptions into the bill that would allow companies like Monsanto to get away with their seemingly hypocritical actions. The company can sneak around to look for supposed “seed thieves,” but perish the thought that others make effort to hold industry wrongdoers accountable.
Industry has clearly made whistleblowers out to look like the bad guys, most likely due to whistleblowers being the only ones who can get the truth out to the rest of us. Even a blogger who used to work for poultry industry admits, “We don’t need more suspicion.” Indeed, this legislation would be a step backwards in transparency that only leads us to assume that industry wants to be hidden from view for a reason.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.