BOISE — A bill that seeks to prevent biosecurity breaches on Idaho farms and agricultural facilities is making its way through the Idaho Legislature.
During the bill’s initial public hearing March 3, farm and food processing groups testified in support of the legislation, which makes it a felony to knowingly introduce a contagious crop, or livestock disease or poison on a farm, ranch or agricultural facility.
The legislation also covers food processing facilities.
It is “of the utmost importance that Idaho continues to protect our food supply and economic stability in agriculture,” said Benjamin Kelly, executive assistant of Food Producers of Idaho, which represents 40 ag groups.
He said FPI “membership agrees that their facilities should be firmly protected against crimes intended to infect crops or livestock products at agricultural operations with diseases or poison.”
The bill, authored by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, also makes it a crime to attempt to introduce crop or livestock diseases or poison, or to aid, abet or conspire with another person to do that.
The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison if it causes more than $1,000 in damage.
The bill’s supporters walked a fine line in explaining to House Agricultural Affairs Committee members why it is necessary without providing specific examples of how someone can harm an ag facility in such a way.
“We just don’t want to provide a how-to check list ... on how to go on to any type of ag facility and create some significant issues,” said IFBF Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs Dennis Tanikuni. However, he added, “any of us are more than happy to talk about those things privately.”
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, the House sponsor of the bill, said it address “the exploitation of agriculture’s vulnerability to breaches of biosecurity.”
The legislation doesn’t affect normal farming practices such as spraying.
Tanikuni said a key point of the bill is that it also addresses the attempt to commit such actions and it’s needed because of the inherent vulnerability of farming operations and facilities.
“In certain operations, devastating results can be achieved with cheap, easily obtainable chemicals,” he said.
Tanikuni said the bill’s crafters ran its provisions by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, farm groups and a lot of other possible stakeholders.
“In preparing for this bill, we talked to everybody,” he said.
Those who testified in support of House Bill 531 noted it protects consumers as well and pointed out the legislation allows the court to order restitution to farmers, ranchers or consumers of their products.
“We added some consumer protection into this bill,” Tanikuni said.
The legislation was supported by Northwest Food Processors Association, which represents processors and suppliers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“We take food safety very seriously,” said NWFPA lobbyist Elizabeth Criner, who told lawmakers the legislation adds “another good layer of protection not only for those of us in the industry of making food but also for those of us who consume it.”