Iowa 'Ag-Gag' Law Overturned

Federal Judge Rules Law Unconstitutional Limit on Free Speech

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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An Iowa law to prevent undercover investigations has been blocked by a federal judge. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A federal judge in Iowa has thrown out a state law Iowa lawmakers created to try to block undercover activist investigations into the state's livestock operations.

The 2012 law, coming after at least a couple of widely publicized investigations into hog operations, made it illegal to come on a livestock facility under false pretenses, or lie on a job application to work for a livestock operation. The law was meant to effectively criminalize undercover investigations on livestock farms.

A lawsuit in the Southern District of Iowa was filed challenging the law by Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Center for Food Safety. Defendants were Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, state Attorney General Tom Miller, and Montgomery County (IA) Attorney Bruce Swanson.

Both sides asked U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner for a summary ruling. Gritzner ruled for plaintiffs in the case, ruling that the law was too broad in scope and the right to make the kinds of false statements prohibited under the Iowa law, "whether they be investigative deceptions or innocuous lies -- is protected by our country's guarantee of free speech and expression."

Iowa joined several states in adopting what opponents call "ag-gag" laws because of videos generated by such investigations showing abusive behavior. Similar cases have overturned laws in Idaho and Utah in recent years, but a Wyoming law has been upheld in court. Similar cases are still working through courts in North Carolina. Gritzner pointed in his ruling to the overturning of the Idaho law and similarities with the Iowa statute.

The Iowa Attorney General's office is studying the ruling and considering whether to appeal.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association was disappointed in the court decision, saying the law was meant to protect farmers from "those who would use false pretenses to do harm to the farmers' reputation and to their farm animals."

The pork group added, "It was never the intent of farmers to infringe on others' constitutional rights; but we also were relying on the courts to help us protect our rights to lawfully conduct our businesses and care for our animals."

Further, the pork association said Iowa farmers "will continue to properly care for their animals and provide safe and secure working conditions for their employees. And, they will fight those who try to destroy or attack their livelihoods one case at a time, if necessary."

The association will evaluate its options moving forward.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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Chris Clayton