JEFFERSON CITY — Some animal welfare groups say a new Missouri bill involving increased restrictions on the disclosure of agriculture research data could endanger the well-being of pets and livestock.
The bill's sponsor disagrees.
If passed, Senate Bill 928 would allow certain farmers partnering with the Missouri Department of Agriculture or the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on agriculture-related research to refrain from disclosing individualized data.
Research data would still be available in batch form, said bill sponsor Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown. He said the bill would only prevent the release of records specific to individual farmers, such as their names, addresses and Social Security numbers, from being made public.
Munzlinger is sponsoring the legislation in hopes of promoting further environmental research by protecting the privacy of individual farmers. Granting this benefit would encourage farmers to partner with state organizations on research, he said.
But the Humane Society of the United States thinks the bill's privacy protections would extend to commercial dog breeders and their sometimes unethical practices.
“Every other business in the state has to be held accountable to the public,” said Dale Bartlett, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. He added that the dog breeding industry should be as transparent as other businesses.
Public records already available reveal which commercial dog breeders are “doing it right” and which frequently violate the law, Bartlett said. If these bills were enacted, the public wouldn’t be able to tell which type of breeder they’re getting their dog from. Bartlett said the bills would be harmful for both animal welfare and consumer protection.
The Humane Society of the United States publishes a yearly report on the county's worst puppy mills. The report, named The Horrible Hundred, makes use of public data released by inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture and various state agencies.
The most recent report was released last spring. It lists Missouri and Kansas as having the highest number of "problem dealers," a position they've held for the last three years.
“Why would they enact a bill like this? This is a state that prides itself on individual rights,” Bartlett said. “The only possible reason that I can think of for why they might not want the public to be able to see records is because there’s something they don’t want the public to know, and that’s un-American.”
Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, also expressed concerns about the bill.
For anything dealing with animal health or the environment, the public would be in the dark, Baker said.
“Under this new law, no one could access those records ever again,” he said.
Baker also invoked a saying about records requests: If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
“If you’re a good farmer and you’re taking good care of your animals, you should be proud of what you’re doing,” he said. “You shouldn’t be trying to hide from the public what’s going on.”
Munzlinger doesn’t believe his bill will affect commercial dog breeders, nor does he believe it will endanger the well-being of farm animals, which he said are seldom involved in environmental research.
In the state of Missouri, commercial dog breeders must be licensed. The proposed bill wouldn’t apply to anyone with a license, Munzlinger said.
Munzlinger also said he plans to amend the bill to make its application clearer.
Senate Bill 928 was passed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources on Feb. 17. As of Tuesday, it was not scheduled for any further action.
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