Activist Coalition Challenges Constitutionality of Iowa’s Ag Protection Act

A coalition of activist groups filed a lawsuit in Iowa this week, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Ag Protection Act. Activist groups and mass media commonly call these bills “ag-gag” laws. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), the Center for Food Safety, and Bailing Out Benji.

The bill, which passed and was signed by Governor Terry Branstad on March 2, 2012, states "a person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud" if they do any of these things:

  • Obtains access to an ag production facility by false pretenses
  • Makes a false statement or misrepresentation as part of an application or agreement to be employed, "if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the ag production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized."

The first conviction is a serious misdemeanor; for the second or subsequent conviction, it is an aggravated misdemeanor.

The term “ag-gag” is freely used by the general media. It was coined by Mark Bittman, a former columnist for The New York Times, a vegan and a fellow at the activist group, Union of Concerned Scientists. He used the term in an April, 2011 article.  

The coalition filing the lawsuit argues Iowa’s law “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which grant freedom of speech and the right to equal protection under the law.”

“Iowa is one of the largest states for industrial animal agriculture,” said the ALDF new release. “The vast majority of these animals are raised on factory farms, subject to intensive confinement, routine mutilations, and deplorable conditions.”

The ALDF says the law has “hindered free speech,” noting that there were “at least 10” undercover investigations of factory farms in Iowa prior to passage of the law in 2012, but since that time, there have been none.

Producers Doing a Better Job
Since 2012, producers have become more aware of best practices and encourage employees to immediately come forward if they observe abuse of any kind. Additionally, several of the large pork operations in the country use 24/7/265 video monitoring, to ensure employees are using those practices. Some packer-processors would like their suppliers to do the same.

“We can’t just say the industry is perfect,” says David Meisinger with Praedium. “We know things happen that are unacceptable.” But the goal is to identify the action as quickly as possible, and either re-train the employee, if possible, or remove them from the operation.

Read more about Praedium here.

The purpose of the lawsuit is less about animal welfare and more about operation size.

The ALDF says “undercover investigations are one of the few ways for the public to receive critical information about animal agriculture operations.”

The news release states that based on research from USDA and Purdue University, “the public relies on the information gathered and presented by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined.”

“Relies” is the wrong word – the public sees the highly edited videos that are designed to evoke and emotional response, while animal agriculture takes less of a pro-active approach. will keep you up-to-date on this litigation as it proceeds.