Family farm weighs in on Missouri's "ag-gag" law

Farmer Jeff Jones feeds his cattle at Jones Angus Farms. His family has grazed cattle in Fulton since 1895.

As more states debate over whether to criminalize filming animal abuse at farms, a fourth generation mid-Missouri farmer says educating the public on how their food is raised is his number one priority.

Jeffrey Jones of Jones Angus Farms said since many farms in Missouri are still family-owned, now is a good time for farmers to communicate with each other about how to keep the public in touch with where their food comes from.

"What we're doing is just the same as our forefathers did," Jones said. "Wisdom is remembering the things that we learned."

Little has changed at Jones Angus Farms over the past century, except with the addition of a few new farm implements. The barn was built in 1900 and is still in use today. Cows have been grazing on the Jones family pastures since they started farming the land in 1895.

"We help take care of them in a way that they can thrive and grow and do well," Jones said. "The better we treat them, the better it helps us."

Jones said the hard work that his family puts into raising cattle wouldn't be worth it if members of the public couldn't come out and take pictures of his operation, meet the animals and see what they do.

"I look forward for the opportunity to help educate people on what is going on in agriculture," Jones said. "I like for them to come here, call us, and ask questions about that... I can't speak for corporate farms, because I'm not one of them."

As more concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) make their way into Missouri, so do the practices those farms bring. In such operations, animals are kept and raised in confined conditions. Feed is brought to the animals instead of providing them with pastures or fields.

Such operations have been the target of high-profile undercover animal welfare investigations. In light of the recordings of conditions inside some of those farms, neighboring states have enacted harsh penalties for recording suspected animal cruelty without an owner's consent.

In Iowa, possessing or recording images or videos in an animal facility without the owner's consent is a crime called "animal facility interference" and is an aggravated misdemeanor. A second offense is a felony.

Missouri has its own "ag-gag" law that mandates recordings of animal abuse must be turned in to law enforcement within 24 hours.

Jones said he believes as an agricultural society, maintaining the public's trust in their food sources should be the priority of every farm, regardless of who owns it.

"As agriculturalists, we are trying to help feed the world and be part of that in a respectful way. But, the consumers need to understand how these products are being raised and what's going on," Jones said.

Jones said any member of the public is welcome to visit his family's farm in Fulton, and that he hopes other family-owned farms will hold onto Missouri's long agricultural tradition.