AIOC honors Iowa House ag committee chair
By Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Farm News staff writer
Des Moines-Animal agriculture in Iowa has become an increasingly attractive target for political activist groups armed with undercover video cameras who want to grab headlines.
Renae Schuiteman of Sioux Center, who has raised dogs for 33 years, is pleased that state lawmakers recently passed House File 589, better known as the Ag Protection Act, which was introduced by Representative Annette Sweeney (R-Alden).
“This bill is a great victory,” said Schuiteman, whose family raises Yorkies and Maltese dogs at Terrytown Kennel. “Those of us who raise animals shouldn’t have to live in fear of people who want to ‘expose’ things that aren’t there.”
The Ag Protection Act still allows people to turn in animal abusers, but it doesn’t allow lying and tampering with evidence, added Betsy Fickel, a dog breeder from Garner who is a member of Animals In Our Care.
“We’re definitely behind this bill by Annette Sweeney, who is a strong voice for agriculture, livestock producers and animal owners. Annette knows how to ‘cowgirl up.'”
That’s why the AIOC teamed up with the Sportsmen’s & Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance to present Sweeney recently with the Legislator of the Year award.
They honored her work to protect Iowans’ constitutional rights and ensure that animal issues are decided using factual, scientific data rather than emotion.
“Animal agriculture is a vital part of Iowa’s economy, and we need to protect this important industry,” said Sweeney, 54, a third-generation cattle producer who represents House District 44, which covers all of Hardin County and the rural areas of Marshall County.
Keeping Iowa agriculture strong is a passion for Sweeney, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee and whose family runs a cow-calf operation near Buckeye. “Agriculture is a $77 billion business in Iowa, and it’s a big reason why our state’s economy isn’t floundering.”
During the past two years, Sweeney sponsored and collaborated with her fellow legislators on the Ag Protection Act, which aims to limit the possibility of serious damage to farms, people and animals by placing tougher, more specific restrictions on those who flaunt existing laws against damaging private property, falsifying employment information and endangering the safety of both people and animals.
“Recently, activists have unabashedly admitted that their actions were conducted at random with the intent of pressuring processors, retailers and lawmakers,” said Sweeney.
“Rather than report practices they claim are abusive in a timely manner, activists have withheld evidence or allegations of abuse, sometimes for months, until their claims fit a news cycle or political agenda. To me, this is unconscionable.”
The Ag Protection Act, which was approved 40-10 in the Iowa Senate and 69-28 in the Iowa House, makes it a crime for individuals to fraudulently gain access to a farm with the intent to cause harm. Iowa is the first state in the nation to sign into law this type of legislation, said Sweeney, who noted that lawmakers in Nebraska, Utah, Minnesota, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, South Dakota, New York and Tennessee are patterning similar bills after the Ag Protection Act.
“Iowa’s farmers take the welfare of the animals in their care very seriously and do not condone animal abuse of any kind. House File 589 reinforces the right of Iowa’s farmers to produce a safe food supply without being exposed to ever-accelerating political extremist criminal activity.”
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) praised the passage of the law. “To raise the healthiest animals and crops possible for the safest food possible, we need to be assured that workers and others entering our farms act ethically and responsibly,” said Craig Hill, a Milo-area livestock farmer and IFBF president. “With that transparency comes trust that everyone working with our livestock also believes in the compassionate care of our animals.”
Invite a lawmaker to the farm
Speaking up for Iowa agriculture isn’t just a job for Iowa’s lawmakers and commodity groups, noted Sweeney, who has served in state government for four years and encourages farmers and other “aggies” to be engaged in the political process. “Call your legislators and invite them over for a cup of coffee or for lunch. Show them what’s going on at your farm and help them understand why agriculture is important to Iowa.”
Educating policy makers about agriculture in a truthful, balanced way can make a big impact, added Sweeney, who noted that 90 percent of the legislation she has supported is constituent driven. Farmers’ insights can also provide a different perspective on well-intentioned-but misguided-policies that can lead to unintended consequences. She cited California’s Proposition 2, which mandates that all chickens must be raised outside of battery cages by 2015.
“A dozen regular eggs in California now cost $3, while a dozen eggs from free-range chickens cost $7.50 to $8.50 a dozen,” said Sweeney, a mother of two grown sons who supports consumer choice and an affordable food supply. “These are the types of things I don’t want to see in Iowa, due to the over-burdensome regulation of agriculture.”
Even though many consumers are two to three generations removed from the farm and aren’t well versed in agriculture, Sweeney is grateful that a fair number of her fellow lawmakers still have a strong ag background. “We want to work together to protect our food supply and make a positive difference in Iowans’ lives.”
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