Iowa, the worst repeat offender when it comes to enacting laws meant to silence whistleblowers at factory farms, quietly slipped its latest rendition of ag-gag into a broader agriculture bill that swiftly became law last week. This is the third such law enacted in Iowa, only one year after both previous laws were found unconstitutional.
Earlier laws faced costly litigation from animal advocates, a battle we will continue to fight. By repeatedly prioritizing ag-gag and committing resources to defending them in court, Iowa has shown that its commitment to shielding Big Ag from accountability is more important than protecting the welfare of farmed animals and saving taxpayer dollars.
Governor Reynolds signed Senate file 2413 into law just five days after its introduction—in the midst of a pandemic that has consumed public attention. The law criminalizes entering a “food operation,” defined as a farm, market, or slaughterhouse, without the owner’s consent. Those found guilty could spend up to two years in jail for a first offense and up to five years for each additional offense.
This year alone, the Iowa legislature has considered three ag-gag bills. In fact, Mercy For Animals has been fighting one of them, Senate file 2398, since the start of this year’s session. Because past ag-gag legislation has repeatedly been struck down on First Amendment grounds, Big Ag and its surrogates in the legislature are becoming more insidious in their use of intentionally misleading language. This bill joins a recent trend of ag-gag bills that frame whistleblowing by animal advocates as “trespass.” This framing is a red herring.
Mercy For Animals Canada recently testified against a similar bill in Ontario that would criminalize entering a farming operation without the farmer’s consent. “Consent” is broadly defined to ensure it applies to anyone on the premises—including those permitted on the premises, such as employees. This means that anyone found to have filmed on the farm could be prosecuted, ostensibly not for filming but for entering the farm without consent. The passage of any ag-gag bill, no matter its form, is unacceptable. Make no mistake: Whistleblowers repeatedly expose egregious animal abuse at factory farms. They are key to protecting farmed animal welfare.
Iowa’s governor signed Senate file 2413 just days before a federal judge struck down a 2015 North Carolina law criminalizing undisclosed videoing on farms. Ag-gag laws in Idaho and Utah have also been struck down on First Amendment grounds. In 2019, after nearly seven years of litigation, a judge struck down Iowa’s only remaining ag-gag law as unconstitutional. Laws crafted to shield Big Ag from accountability are clearly unconstitutional, and states waste millions of taxpayer dollars every year defending them.
It’s time for states to focus efforts on crafting laws to protect innocent animals, not enable their abusers.