Victory! Iowa Ag-Gag Law Ruled Unconstitutional; Undercover Investigations At Factory Farms Are Protected By The First Amendment

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment.

In 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund led a coalition of animal, environmental, and community advocacy groups in challenging the law’s constitutionality. Federal courts similarly struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

Iowa’s Ag-Gag law criminalizes undercover investigations at a broad range of animal facilities including factory farms, puppy mills, and slaughterhouses. This is to try and prevent advocates from exposing animal cruelty and environmental workers’ rights, as well as food safety violations. The law achieved its goal of suppressing undercover investigations; no investigations have taken place since the law’s passage in 2012.

“Ag-Gag laws are a pernicious attempt by animal exploitation industries to hide some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the United States,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “Today’s victory makes it clear that the government cannot protect these industries at the expense of our constitutional rights.”

For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations. Iowa is the biggest producer of pigs raised for meat, and hens raised for eggs in the United States, making it critically important that investigations are not suppressed.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals and led coalitions to strike down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah. Litigation against the North Carolina Ag-Gag law is ongoing.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with Animal Legal Defense Fund are: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Center for Food Safety. They are represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, Public Justice, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar.

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