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Iowa's 'Ag-Gag' Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Prior to passage of Iowa's 2012 "ag-gag" law, there were at least 10 undercover investigations at factory farms and none since then. (info.umkc.edu)
Prior to passage of Iowa's 2012 "ag-gag" law, there were at least 10 undercover investigations at factory farms and none since then. (info.umkc.edu)
January 10, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa's so-called ag-gag law that criminalized efforts to expose violations related to animal cruelty and food safety has been struck down as unconstitutional.

The controversial law prohibited undercover videos showing animal abuse at factory farms, and also prevented whistleblowers from exposing unsafe working conditions or other workplace violations at animal agriculture facilities.

A senior judge for the U.S. Southern District of Iowa ruled the 2012 state law violates free-speech protections under the First Amendment.

Those protections, according to Veronica Fowler, communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, can help inform consumers about whether their food is safe.

"Journalists play a really important role in uncovering problems in our food supply,” she stresses. “If it's safe, if the methods are sanitary, if labor laws are being followed."

Journalists, individuals or advocacy groups who violated the ag-gag law to document or report on activities in the agricultural industry faced fines and up to one year in jail.

The Iowa Attorney General's office said Wednesday it is reviewing the ruling to determine whether to appeal.

Similar ag-gag laws have been struck down in Idaho and Utah.

Fowler says the judge's ruling citing First Amendment free speech confirms that whistleblowers cannot be silenced in order to protect one industry.

"Part of the concern was this was only for agricultural facilities,” she states. “This was a clear attempt to block the content of free speech."

In his ruling, the judge noted a 2011 undercover investigation at Iowa Select Farms that produced reports of workers hurling small piglets onto a concrete floor, and another investigation that exposed workers at a Hormel Foods plant "beating pigs with metal rods."

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA