PETA VP advocates against Senate bill

By Alissa Jones, CORRESPONDENT
On April 6, 2011

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known for secretly filming animal neglect at factory farms and slaughterhouses around the world, but a recent bill may raise legal barriers.

After PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews heard of a Tampa senator's proposed bill to make undercover filming a felony, he began advocating against the legislation by raising awareness about it.

Mathews spoke out against the bill to students and locals in the Marshall Student Center's Oval Theater on Tuesday night.

Senate Bill 1246, proposed by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, aims to make photography or filming of farms without the owner's consent - including at factory farms where animals may be mistreated and slaughtered incorrectly - a misdemeanor.

In a PETA video titled, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian," which was shown during the lecture, footage from slaughterhouses revealed many process violations leading to the slaughter of animals while they were still conscious.

Mathews said it's PETA's job to continue filming for that reason.

"What they're afraid of is that PETA and others will document routine violations of state and federal animal cruelty laws as we have all around the country," he said.

In a video of his own explaining the bill, Norman said it would protect farmers' rights.

"What the bill entails is protection of farmers from people that are trying to enter their property illegally by falsifying employment ... gearing up with all sorts of recording devices, filming, trying to get within farm activity, trying to basically harm the farm from their competitive aspect of their nature of farming," he said in the video. "It protects the farmers where they would not have to take on some assault of outside individuals that want to come in and infiltrate their properties."

Mathews said Norman was invited to the USF event, but didn't attend after multiple phone calls.

Mathews, who's been involved with PETA for 26 years, said the bill is problematic, but similar bills have failed to pass.

"They (tried to pass) similar bills like this in Texas and Colorado, and those are two of the biggest animal agriculture states, and the bills went down in flames there," he said. "I think what happens is in the political world … there are a lot of politicians who are beholden to the people who contribute the most to their campaigns."

Mathews urged the audience to ask senators and elected officials not to pass the bill, which originally sought a first-degree felony charge for the act.

"This bill was designed to make photographing farm animals a felony … the Kodak moment of a chicken or a cow is on par with rape and murder in Sen. Norman's world," Mathews said. "But when it was ridiculed in editorials across the state and throughout the country, they begrudgingly reduced it to misdemeanor charges."

Students Protecting the Environment and Animals with Knowledge (SPEAK) President Kristie Almeida, a senior majoring in political science, said she wants the bill to fail so the public is kept informed.

"It's important that legislation like this doesn't pass," she said. "People deserve to know where their food comes from and how it's being manufactured, regardless of their diet."

SPEAK invited Mathews to speak at USF.

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