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 outΒ  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:

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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

1 thought on “Are EPA drones spying on US farmers?”

  1. 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.


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