At the New York Farm Bureau (“NYFB”) farm animal welfare conference, Mr. McNally and myself had the opportunity to address farm animal cruelty laws here in New York. I discussed the laws from a defense standpoint while Mr. McNally was knowledgeable from the prosecution side. My outline that was provided to conference attendees is available on JD Supra here.
As noted in this blog, the primary law in New York affecting livestock producers is Section 353 of the Agric. & Markets Law which places misdemeanor liability for the failure to provide necessary food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Many states have similar statutes which proscribe animal neglect. I recommended that livestock producers start building their case against potential prosecution by documenting visits with Cornell University Extension Specialists, nutritionists, veterinarians, and other livestock experts and their compliance with those recommendation.
Furthermore, we both noted at the conference that animal societies in New York, principally the New York Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty (“SPCA”), have the authority to obtain warrants as “peace officers” to search and seize farm animals. There was a heated debate on how livestock producers should react when put in this situation. My advice was as follows:
1. Read the warrant. The peace officers must let you read the warrant before they conduct their search. I realize that oftentimes these searches happen when the farmer is not home, but if you are make sure that an agent of the farming operation reviews the warrant before the search takes place.
2. Make sure the peace officers do not go outside the scope of the warrant. For example, if the warrant is for the potential abuse of dogs in your backyard, the peace officers should not be in the barn. If the peace officers do this, call the local police department and your attorney.
3. Fully Cooperate. This situation may be very scary, particularly if the peace officers bring video cameras. Since they have a warrant, they have the legal right to be on your property. Fully cooperate during the search and contact your attorney immediately.
4. Don’t Let Yourself Be Extorted. Animal societies may try to use its ability to press charges or publish video coverage as leverage to seize your livestock animals. Do not succumb to these types of threats. Organize all relevant documentation proving that your farm animals were properly cared for and contact an agriculture attorney. Though criminal prosecution can be scary, do not allow yourself to be extorted. Albeit rare, these types of threats do happen so livestock producers should be prepared.
On a final note, both Mr. McNally and myself emphasized the importance for livestock producers in New York to have an attorney who they know and trust. Livestock producers should have an agriculture on speed dial and call him/her if ever involved in these situations.
Tomorrow, I will be debriefing the speech by Kay Johnson Smith from the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Check back in tomorrow for a summary of her talk about being an agriculture “animal activist.”