Coalition Of Animal Welfare Organizations File Lawsuit Against Iowa’s Newest Ag-Gag Law

Earlier this week, a coalition of public interest groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa challenging the constitutionality of Iowa’s newest ag-gag law.

In March, Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law the “agricultural production facility trespass,” which like an earlier ag-gag law was struck down in Iowa, it would criminalize investigations at agricultural facilities, including food and meat processing plants, livestock facilities, and puppy mills.

In January, a federal court struck down a different Iowa ag-gag law, which the Iowa Legislature passed in 2012. This newer ag-gag law was a direct response to the earlier law being deemed unconstitutional.

The new law creates a new crime that makes it illegal for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility through deception if the person intends to cause “economic harm or other injury” to the facility. Deception is defined broadly to include both lies and omissions, and there is no definition or limitation on what “other injury” includes

“The legal challenge we filed is important in protecting free speech in Iowa,” Rita Bettis Austen, American Civilities Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa legal director, said in a statement. “An especially grievous harm to our democracy occurs when the government uses the power of the criminal laws to target unpopular speech to protect those with power, which is exactly what this law is about. The Ag-Gag 2.0 law aims to silence critics of worker rights abuses, animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, and environmental hazards in agricultural facilities. Legislators rushed to pass Ag-Gag 2.0 shortly after the federal injunction of Ag-Gag 1.0 came down. Enough is enough. Free speech means the government is not allowed to put the interests of one industry above the constitutional rights of its critics.”

Federal courts in other states have struck down similar ag-gag laws.

Violations such as trespassing, are already covered by Iowa law. Ag-Gag 2.0 once again tries to give special protection to agriculture over all other industries in our state, and over the free speech rights of those who would voice opposition to them. It has a chilling effect on journalists, advocates, and others in exposing problematic worker conditions, health and safety violations, and animal cruelty inside agricultural facilities.

Adam Mason, state policy organizing director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the plaintiffs, agrees.

“The intent of Iowa’s ag-gag law is clear. It is to silence those who would expose unsafe working conditions, environmental pollution, or other potential violations at factory farms and other animal facilities,” stated Mason. “The state has carved out unfair rules for industrialized agriculture that no other industry has, and that is harmful to workers and the environment because it keeps us from effectively documenting abuses.”

“It took our Iowa legislators just 10 days to submit, discuss, vote on and sign this new bill into law, immediately after Ag-Gag 1.0 had just been defeated in the courts,” said Mindi Callison, Executive Director of one of the plaintiffs, Bailing Out Benji. “That means that even though we have won the right to do our work to protect puppies and dogs in striking down Ag-Gag 1.0, and even though the state’s motion for stay was denied, we are still impeded in exercising our free speech as an organization by Ag-Gag 2.0.”

“Now more than ever it is important to give a voice to those that have none and make sure that commercial dog breeding facilities are complying with the laws,” continued Callison. Passing this law to protect agricultural facilities at all costs is irresponsible.”

Callison pointed to the need to expose and educate the public about the atrocities that are happening behind closed doors at puppy mills in Iowa, and other agricultural facilities, as well as to oppose the sale of puppy mill animals in pet stores across the country.

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