Court Battles

Federal judge strikes down Iowa law to block groups secretly filming livestock abuse

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A federal judge this week struck down an Iowa law that made it a crime for animal rights groups to go undercover and film potential livestock abuse on farms or other animal operations.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa rejected a 2019 law, known as Ag-Gag 2.0, that created a trespassing charge — punishable by up to a year — for people deceptively gaining access to an animal operation to negatively affect operations there.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, celebrated the decision in a press release, explaining the undercover investigations are vital to public debate about the treatment of animals and the quality of food production.

The animal rights organization pointed to a graphic May 2020 video from The Intercept depicting the mass slaughtering of pigs through a ventilation shutdown. The animals were slowly cooked to death at the Iowa operation.

“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,” said the organizations’ executive director, Stephen Wells, in a statement.

The Hill has reached out to the Iowa state legislature and the governor’s office for comment.

In the ruling, Judge Stephanie Rose said lawmakers have a right to assess legal protections at agricultural facilities, but the legislature cannot impinge on free speech rights and bar people with a certain point of view, according to The Associated Press.

“The state of Iowa may not single out individuals for special punishment based on their critical viewpoint of agricultural practices, which they have sought to do,” Rose said of the 2019 law.

So-called Ag-Gag laws have been struck down in Kansas, Wyoming and Utah, but Iowa has passed four similar bills since 2012, the AP noted.

According to a copy of the lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs, Iowa lost a similar effort on a separate Ag-Gag bill in 2019 and tweaked the law that was struck down this week only slightly.

Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director of the Center for Food Safety, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, hailed the ruling as “another important step toward a more just, humane, and transparent food system, where Industrial Ag is not permitted to hide in the shadows.”

Tags Animal Legal Defense Fund Animal rights Center for Food Safety Des Moines Iowa Livestock abuse

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