Are EPA drones spying on US farmers?

aerial farm photo

There’s been a sort of mini freakout about EPA using drones to monitor cattle ranchers in the US midwest. So, what are these planes doing over Nebraska and Iowa?

A drone is an unmanned aircraft used for surveillance. Military drones–like the ones that took out  al-Qaida’s second in command earlier this week–can be armed with missiles and other firepower, but the drones flying over the midwest United States are armed with something a little bit less scary: cameras.

The idea behind these drones is to monitor cattle ranches for Clean Water Act violations. EPA defended the surveillance in a letter. Here’s an excerpt:

Courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal (for example to take aerial photographs of a chemical manufacturing facility) and EPA would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act.

Some are calling this a violation of Fourth Amendment rights.

Big agriculture must hate this, right? We’ve seen agricultural interests blocking transparency by infringing on freedom of the press with so-called Ag Gag bills in big farming states. Do these fly-overs violate cattle ranchers’ civil liberties? Are aerial photos different from a on the ground inspections of big ranching operations?

The Daily Show’s John Stewart had a hilarious take on the EPA drones:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Game of Drones
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What do you guys think? Is this an overstep or an efficient way to prevent factory farms from polluting our waterways?

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Friends of Family Farmers

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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .
  • The uproar is an obvious extension of “Ag-Gag” bills seeking to shield unpalatable agribiz practices from the public. There’s an obvious flaw: EPA does not use drones. Inspectors use light aircraft to monitor compliance, a practice started under G.W. Bush.