U.S. Court Strikes Down Second Ag-Gag Law In Iowa Deeming It Unconstitutional And A Violation Of The First Amendment

Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled Iowa’s second Ag-Gag law, also known as Iowa Ag-Gag 2.0, as unconstitutional, holding that the law violates the First Amendment. It criminalizes undercover investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills.

The law, which is similar to the state’s first Ag-Gag statute, blocked free speech by criminalizing undercover investigations at slaughterhouses, 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,” Stephen Wells, Executive Director of Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “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. The ruling that struck 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, requiring many large facilities to temporarily shut down. The bottleneck of animals created by these slaughterhouse closures resulted in the “depopulation” of herds and flocks and 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 has been instrumental in striking down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kansas. Several of these cases are ongoing, and coalitions are defending victories in federal appellate courts.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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