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Idaho's Ag-Gag Law Challenged in Federal Court

A screenshot from a video made at the Bettencourt Dairy in Hansen, which sparked Idaho's ag-gag law. (Mercy for Animals)
A screenshot from a video made at the Bettencourt Dairy in Hansen, which sparked Idaho's ag-gag law. (Mercy for Animals)
June 21, 2016

BOISE, Idaho – An Idaho law that discourages undercover investigations at large-scale livestock farms is headed for a showdown in federal court, in a case that could have implications across the West.

Last summer, a district court struck down Idaho's so-called "ag-gag" law. The state appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and on Monday, a coalition of animal welfare groups filed its brief in the case.

The brief blasts the 2014 law, which made it illegal for workers at factory farms to record the operations, and for anyone to omit their affiliation with an advocacy group or media organization on a farm job application.

Matthew Liebman, chief counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, called the law a serious violation of the First Amendment.

"Numerous undercover investigations have exposed unsafe food-handling practices and horrific cruelty to animals," Liebman stated. "It's incredibly important that these kinds of investigations be able to take place and educate the public on what's happening at these highly-secretive facilities."

Supporters of the law - officially known as the Agricultural Security Act - have said it protects farm owners' privacy and property rights.

The law was prompted by a scandal that erupted when the group Mercy for Animals released video alleging abuse of cows at Bettencourt Dairies in Hansen, Idaho.

Liebman says the meat industry is pushing ag-gag laws nationwide. He notes that the Ninth Circuit could set a precedent that might end up overturning laws in seven other states, including Montana.

"The Ninth Circuit, which is the largest court of appeals - the governing law for the entire western United States - will be weighing in on the really important constitutional issue of whether or not states have a right to silence critics of industrial animal agriculture," he said.

The State of Idaho now has two weeks to respond to the brief. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to set a hearing date within nine to 12 months.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID