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Chobani founder asks Otter to veto ‘ag gag bill’

File photo.

File photo.

The founder of Greek yogurt maker Chobani asked Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to veto a bill that jails for up to a year people who secretly film animal abuse at Idaho’s agricultural facilities.

But Otter signed the bill Feb. 28.

Hamdi Ulukaya in a statement early on Feb. 28 said the law would limit transparency, could cause general public concern, and conflicts with the company’s views and values.

“As someone who grew up on a farm, I believe deeply that the humane treatment of animals is an ethical and moral imperative and, having spent a lot of time in upstate New York and Idaho, I know hundreds of farmers feel the same,” Ulukaya said in his statement. “When I founded Chobani, it was based around these core values and principles. And we chose Idaho for Chobani’s second home because of its deep farming culture, sense of community and shared values.”

The company has a $450 million plant in Twin Falls in the heart of south-central Idaho’s dairy region.

Lava Hot Springs Republican Rep. Ken Andrus, the chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee and the sponsor of the bill, said Feb. 28 that he believed Ulukaya’s statement was prompted by worries about boycotts.

“They don’t understand the issue,” Andrus said. “I believe in the humane treatment of animals, and so does every member of the Idaho Legislature.”

But he added, “if you’re going to open up your private property, and not have it secure from spies … if you filmed long enough, you’d see an animal being mistreated.”

The bill, promoted heavily by Idaho’s dairy industry, came after videos released by Los Angeles-based vegetarian and animal rights group Mercy for Animals showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and sexually abusing cows in 2012.

An activist secretly filmed the abuse after getting a job at the dairy.

The law isn’t aimed at covering up mistreatment of animals, Andrus said.

“They can report it if they suspect it,” he said of workers. “The Department of Agriculture has a responsibility to come and investigate.”

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