Nearly 30 years ago, Kansas became the first U.S. state to make it illegal to take photographs or record video footage inside a factory farm “with the intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility”—enacting the first “ag-gag” law, a law targeting whistleblowers of animal abuse. This week, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas struck down nearly all of this law, saying it violated the First Amendment.
Over the three decades since Kansas enacted the law, 28 states have attempted to pass ag-gag legislation, but only nine have succeeded. Six ag-gag laws remain in effect, in Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Montana, Kansas, North Dakota, and North Carolina. The anti-whistleblower laws in Idaho and Utah and the first one in Iowa have been overturned. And more legal challenges are underway.
In December 2018, a coalition of advocacy groups represented by Public Justice, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and including the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc., and Hope Sanctuary, joined forces and filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ag-gag law in Kansas. In a huge victory for animals and the people who stand up for them, the court denied the state’s motion to have the case thrown out and barred Kansas from enforcing most of its ag-gag law. Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells stated:
For 30 years, Kansas lawmakers have suppressed whistleblowers from investigating cruel conditions on factory farms with this unconstitutional law. Today’s decision is a victory for the millions of animals raised for meat on factory farms.
The factory farming industry is worried about the public’s reaction to seeing how animals are raised and killed for food. Iowa’s first ag-gag law (which has since been struck down) was enacted shortly after Mercy For Animals released an undercover investigation into Sparboe Farms, with footage from inside eight facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado.
While Sparboe Farms made numerous claims about animal welfare, the investigator documented dead chickens left to rot in cages with hens still laying eggs for human consumption, live chicks thrown into plastic bags to be suffocated, and other atrocities.