A bill proposed in the Indiana House of Representatives would shield livestock farms from “frivolous” lawsuits. Supporters say that the bill would protect farmers and ranchers from radical anti-farm activists, while opponents say that the bill is the latest efforts from farm advocates to protect farmers who mistreat animals.
The bill in question, which recently passed the Indiana House, would offer broad protections to farmers involved in nuisance lawsuits. Most importantly, the bill would allow courts that find nuisance lawsuits to be frivolous, baseless, or malicious, to award legal fees to the defendants. The bill, supporters claim, would prevent activists groups from filing frivolous or baseless lawsuits, by making them accountable for legal fees.
Opponents of the bill, however, argue that it would have a “chilling effect” on legitimate agricultural litigation, one of the broader public’s few available instruments of protection. Without the ability to sue farmers, opponents argue, residents would have few protections against actual nuisance farms.
This bill is hardly an isolated instance of aggressive agricultural legislation. Two states, Iowa and Florida, are considering legislation that would criminalize the production of undercover videos on farms or ranches. In addition, 13 states have food defamation laws that allow farmers to sue individuals or groups who defame or libel farms or farmers. In 1998, the Texas Cattleman’s Association famously used state defamation laws to unsuccessfully sue Oprah Winfrey, who hosted a television show on Mad Cow Disease.
The State Senate is currently debating the bill, where significant opposition from environmentalists groups and animal rights activists is expected.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer