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Detailed Discussion of State Animal “Terrorism”/Animal Enterprise Interference Laws

August 11, 2011 Comments off

Detailed Discussion of State Animal “Terrorism”/Animal Enterprise Interference Laws
Source: Animal Legal & Historical Center (Michigan State University College of Law)

The state legislatures of approximately 28 states, such as Arkansas and Kentucky, have found that the breeding, selling, and use of “animals in research, testing, and education represent vital segments of the economy.” They are worried about the increasing number of illegal acts targeted at farm animal and research facilities, acts that may involve injury or loss of life to people and animals, criminal trespass, and property damage. When activists free research animals, for example, this may hurt the public interest by disrupting and damaging publicly funded research, causing the loss of physical and intellectual property, and jeopardize “crucial scientific, biomedical, or agricultural research or production.” When activists stage protests outside of research facilities, their actions may threaten the public safety by creating traffic hazards.

In response to such activism, legislators have enacted state animal enterprise interference laws, aka “animal terrorism” laws or “Ag-gag laws,” with Minnesota being the first to do so in 1988. 5 Many of these state laws have come in the wake of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which was enacted in 2006 to “provide the Department of Justice the necessary authority to apprehend, prosecute, and convict individuals committing animal enterprise terror.” (For more on the AETA, click here).

Animal terrorism laws generally forbid entering an animal facility with the intent to commit a prohibited act. 6 An “animal facility” is typically any location where an animal is kept for agricultural production, or for educational or scientific purposes. 7 This could be a pasture or a pen, a laboratory, or a vehicle or pond where an animal is kept, shown, bred, used in research, testing, or for food or fiber production. 8 Examples include livestock markets, zoos, rodeos, circuses, amusement parks, hunting preserves, horse and dog show grounds, research facilities, and veterinary clinics. 9 A building used to store supplies, records, data, or equipment relating to animal research, testing, production, or education or an organization with the primary purpose of promoting or marketing livestock or livestock products could also qualify as an “animal facility.” 10

Prohibited acts under the animal terrorism laws typically involve injury or loss of life to people and animals, criminal trespass, and property damage if the intent is to obstruct, impede, or disrupt operations, agricultural research, or experimentation conducted at an animal facility or deter any person from participating in a lawful activity that involves the use of animals. 11

A person who is charged under a state animal terrorism statute may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the act and amount of damages. A conviction may result in a hefty fine and a prison sentence. In a minority of jurisdictions, the crime may be enhanced because an animal enterprise was involved. A perpetrator may also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim for damages.

As with AETA, which has been criticized for chilling free speech and labeling animal welfare activists as “terrorists,” state laws may face constitutional challenges for violations of free speech and equal protection rights.

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