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Fri, Jan. 17

New California law targets activists

The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

This year, seven states considered bills to make so-called animal and ecological terrorism subject to stiffer penalties, said Sandy Liddy Bourne of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The bills are based on a model legislation developed by the Washington-based group.

Poochigian introduced the California law in February to prevent the potential spread of disease between animal farms and to curb increasing acts of violence by animal rights activists, said Deborah Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the senator.

Several animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, opposed Poochigian's bill, arguing that its real purpose is to stymie attempts to document inhumane conditions at farms.

Poochigian wrote in his proposal that an outbreak similar to the Exotic Newcastle poultry disease, which killed more than 3 million hens in Southern California earlier this year, could occur if a trespasser were to inadvertently spread a disease.

U.S. Agriculture Department officials believe farm workers spread Exotic Newcastle to egg farms through their clothing and shoes. The quarantine for the disease cost more than $160 million.

Some members of the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association have reported that trespassers entered their farms, burned trucks and stole animals, said Debbie Murdock, a spokeswoman for the group. She declined to give further details because some of the cases are under investigation.

Trespassing on animal farms is at the core of a highly publicized case that played out at a Central Valley duck farm in September.

Four animal-rights activists broke into the farm and stole birds being raised for the French delicacy foie gras, or fattened liver. The activists, from the San Francisco-based group the Animal Protection and Rescue League, shot video footage of the act to publicize what they called the mistreatment of the animals.

The owners of Sonoma Foie Gras in Farmington filed a lawsuit accusing the activists of trespassing. The farm, which raises about 20,000 ducks, is one of two U.S. producers of foie gras, made when ducks or geese are fed through a tube down their throat so their livers expand.

The league, along with In Defense of Animals, in turn filed a lawsuit alleging that Sonoma Foie Gras violated state anti-cruelty laws by force-feeding the ducks. Both lawsuits are pending.

David Blatte, an attorney for the Animal Protection and Rescue League, said the new law addresses legitimate safety concerns but also suppresses free speech.

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