Bills seek to protect farmers from theft
Under Guam law, stealing produce from a private farm is not considered illegal, thus leaving the agricultural sites wide open for theft.
Sen. Clynt Ridgell has introduced Bill No. 62-36(LS) and Bill No. 63-36(LS), in collaboration with the Office of Vice Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes, the Department of Agriculture, and after working with multiple farmers on how best to address the issue of agricultural theft. Farmers have been increasingly plagued by the theft of produce; however, theft of produce is technically not illegal according to Guam law. The first bill ensures that agricultural products are considered property in Guam’s theft laws.
This clarification mandates that these theft laws must be enforced for agricultural theft as they are with other forms of property. It also mandates that farmers who are victims of agricultural theft must be reimbursed by the defendant after conviction.
“I’d like to thank the Department of Agriculture for recommending the need for both of these measures. I have also spoken to numerous farmers who have said that agricultural theft is a major problem,” Ridgell said. “It is abundantly clear that our farmers deserve this added protection. Decades of disregard will be corrected, and Guam’s farms will now receive protection and reparations through the criminal justice system,” said Chelsa Muña-Brecht, Director of the Guam Department of Agriculture. The second bill requires all farmers who engage in the sale of agricultural product to be registered with the Department of Agriculture. Mandating this registry prevents businesses from buying produce from non-registered farmers, as well as prevents agricultural thieves from making a profit from stolen crops. “I’ve been told by many farmers that many thieves steal crops in order to sell stolen crops for cash. I know farmers who have gone so far as to mark their produce so that they can find it if it’s being sold somewhere. This problem is so prevalent, I know some farmers who actually stake out their farm and lie in wait in the hopes of catching these thieves red-handed.”
In the case of agricultural theft, these bills also require a consultation between the courts and the Department of Agriculture to determine the fair market value of the stolen agricultural product. This consultation will provide the courts with subject matter expertise to ensure that the best valuation and best reimbursement is received. “Having heard the concerns of our local farmers, I had worked with Senator Ridgell to introduce this measure to protect the crops and livestock of our hardworking local farmers.” Vice Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, co-sponsor to the measure, said. “As we look at promoting new industries, we must ensure that we must also protect those that produce for Guam.," said Muña Barnes, co-sponsor to the measure.
“I think first, we have to make it illegal to steal produce, and then we have to prevent stolen produce from being sold. That’s precisely what these two bills do," Ridgell said.