Court Strikes Down Second Iowa Ag-Gag Law
Public interest coalition celebrates another win against unconstitutional statute barring undercover investigations at factory farms
DES MOINES, IA — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa held unconstitutional Iowa’s second Ag-Gag law, also known as Iowa Ag-Gag 2.0, holding that the law criminalizing undercover investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills violates the First Amendment. The law, which is similar to the state’s first Ag-Gag statute, gagged free speech by criminalizing undercover investigations at animal facilities, deterring the exposure of animal cruelty, unsafe working conditions, and food safety threats in such facilities.
After the coalition succeeded in striking down Iowa’s first Ag-Gag law at the district court level, the state wasted no time in passing Ag-Gag 2.0, creating the new crime of “agricultural production facility trespass”. The second law criminalized the same investigative activities as the first, targeting a slightly different form of speech integral to those investigations.
“It is incomprehensible that Iowa legislators continue to waste Iowans’ taxpayer dollars to pass and defend unconstitutional laws that suppress free speech simply to protect their own financial interests,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We hope this ruling sends a clear message that the Iowa legislature should cease its efforts to pass unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws.”
The ability to investigate, document, and publicize corporate agriculture’s abuses is imperative both to the well-being of animals across the nation and to public health and safety. Undercover investigations are also important for workers’ rights, and the ruling striking down the original Ag-Gag law notes that these laws have the effect of inhibiting union organizing.
Investigations are vital to public debates about food production and animal treatment. Especially during this time of uncertainty, factory farms and slaughterhouses have been roiled by COVID-19. Abusive working conditions and a lack of government intervention have left more than 3,800 Iowa meatpacking plant workers infected with the coronavirus and requiring many large facilities to temporarily shut down. The bottleneck of animals created by these slaughterhouse closures has led to “depopulation” of herds and flocks — the mass killing of animals on farms — which has made transparency and accountability more important than ever.
On May 29, 2020, a graphic video was released after a whistleblower came forward in Iowa revealing the cruelty of depopulation and the reality of ventilation shutdown, a common method of mass killing: pigs calling out in distress as they were slowly cooked to death with steam over the course of many hours. Without undercover investigations, such acts of cruelty would be hidden from the public.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, is one of the lead organizations striking down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kansas, and most recently filed litigation seeking to strike down Iowa’s most recent Ag-Gag law. Several of these cases are ongoing, and coalitions are defending victories in federal appellate courts, as well.
The plaintiff coalition is composed of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji. The coalition is represented by the ACLU of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, Justin Marceau and Alan Chen of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and in-house counsel for the plaintiff organizations.
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