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Trib Talk: What is Utah’s “ag-gag” law and is it constitutional?

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By Janelle Stecklein

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 31 2013 08:19AM
Updated Jul 31, 2013 08:02PM

In Utah, it’s currently a crime to take photos or video of livestock or poultry on private property without the owner’s consent, but a group of animal rights activists is challenging the law in federal court.

The two sides debated the issue Wednesday on TribTalk.

The group of activists, represented by civil rights attorney Stewart Gollan, claim the law violates individual’s First and 14th Amendment rights by stifling one side of the agricultural debate, involving in part the treatment of animals.

"People need to know how the products they buy are treated," Gollan said, noting that the law has already had a "chilling effect" on investigative journalism in the state.

"It simply criminalizes if you take a photograph or video," he said. "It doesn’t do anything if you trespass and don’t take a photo or video."

He said the lawsuit is asking that the law be deemed unconstitutional.

Sterling Brown, with Utah’s Farm Bureau, said the law is necessary to protect the security of farms and ranches and to protect the safety of the public who might come onto the farms and ranches.

"The existing trespass laws were not adequate," Brown said. "We still had abuse. We still had security breaches. We still had issues concerning to our food and fiber."

He said the law is necessary to protect food supplies from those that would like "hamper or reduce" that type of security.

In addition, Brown noted that video and pictures can be manipulated to make things look worse than they are.

"History has proven it happens, and it makes the industry look bad," he said.

But Gollan noted that the state’s "ag gag" law could prove to be a slippery slope because it could span similar law protecting other industries — such as daycares — that would like to regulate potential criticism.

"Every industry would like special protections," he said.

The state of Utah has 60 days to file its response to the lawsuit.

jstecklein@sltrib.com

Twitter @sltribjanelle

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