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An ag-gag backfire

Published April 30, 2013 5:27 pm

Meat-packing mayor earns scrutiny
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

City officials in Draper may hope that their quick dismissal of charges against an animal cruelty opponent who apparently did nothing more than take a video from a public place will end the controversy over the Utah "ag-gag" law and the questionable use of that law in a way that would seem to benefit the mayor's own business interests.

Everybody else should hope those officials are wrong. This incident should not be swept under the rug.

It was bad enough that the 2012 Utah Legislature added us to the list of states with laws aimed at preventing the exposure of illegal conduct on farms or food processing operations. By singling out one industry for extraordinary — and perhaps unconstitutional — protection from whistleblowers, lawmakers succeeded in doing nothing so much as making people wonder just what they are up to that is so shameful.

But even that law, as passed, was less troublesome than earlier drafts. In its final version, the law against "agricultural operation interference" only criminalized the taking of photos, videos or sound recordings of a farm or processing plant's operations if the documentation involved criminal trespass, getting a job at the operation under false pretenses or leaving an unauthorized camera or listening device on the property.

None of those factors seems to be present in the case of Amy Meyer.

She used a cellphone to record video of goings-on at the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. in Draper on Feb. 8. Her claim, which no one has contradicted, was that she never set foot on the company's property, recording images of the plant's exterior as visible from a public street. She said as much to police officers at the time, and was not arrested.

So she was shocked to learn that, 11 days later, Draper city prosecutors had charged her with violating the agricultural operation interference law, a class B misdemeanor that can carry a jail sentence of up to six months.

That series of events was reported in Tuesday's Salt Lake Tribune. Tuesday morning, the charges were dismissed.

That's good for Meyer. But it should just be the beginning for the people of Draper, and for county and state officials, who now have reason to wonder if the apparently baseless charges had anything to do with the fact that the slaughterhouse is partly owned by Draper Mayor Darrell H. Smith.

And now would be a really good time for state and federal inspectors to visit the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. of Draper. Just to see what it is that they don't want anyone taking pictures of.