TAMPA — The room went silent and all eyes focused on a video of animals squealing and bleating for the final time in undercover footage of American slaughterhouses.
Dan Mathews, vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, came to the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center on Tuesday evening to make his case against a bill introduced by state Sen. Jim Norman that would prevent the undercover videos from being shot in Florida.
"What are they so afraid of?" Mathews asked the crowd of 72 people in the Oval Theater.
Senate Bill 1246 has passed the Senate agricultural committee, and if it becomes law it will make it a misdemeanor to take photo or videos of a farm or its animals if one enters the property without written consent of the owner. Notable exceptions include Department of Agriculture investigators and law enforcement officers.
Mathews said he invited Norman, R-Tampa and a former Hillsborough County commissioner, to debate the issue. Norman has not responded.
"Perhaps he's not as enthusiastic about this bill as he would like us to think he is," Mathews told the audience.
PETA provides a public service by gathering videos of farm and slaughterhouse violations of state and federal animal cruelty laws and submitting them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for action, Mathews said.
He said sometimes politicians get beholden to influential constituents and propose bills such as SB 1246 to appease them. Similar bills in Texas and Colorado have failed because of public outcry, Mathews said.
California amended its constitutional in 2008 to ban the confinement of animals where they can't stand, sit, lie down, turn around and stretch their limbs, starting in 2015.
Mathews said that law may be the catalyst for attempts to pass legislation banning video and photos at farms.
The PETA activist isn't sure how far the organization will go to get Tallahassee's attention on the matter. He said the animal cruelty violations at farms and slaughterhouses affect employee safety as much as food quality and the animals quality of life.