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So-Called Ag Gag Law Upended: What Now?

Amy Mayer/IPR

Recently, Federal Judge James Gritzner ruled that it is no longer a crime to go undercover at agricultural operations to investigate working conditions and animal welfare. His ruling found that the 2012 law was a clear violation of the First Amendment.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to IPR’s Amy Mayer, Jennifer Zwagerman of Drake University's Agricultural Law Center, Liz Pachaud of Mercy for Animals, Mike Telford of Iowa Farm Animal Care, and Kevin Stiles of the Iowa Poultry Association about the overturning of Iowa’s “agricultural production facility fraud” law, commonly called the "Ag Gag law."

The law made it a crime for journalists and members of advocacy groups to misrepresent their intent, or lie on job applications in order to gain access to ag facilities and investigate working conditions, animal welfare, food safety, and environmental hazards, among other things.

Iowa lawmakers said the law was enacted to defend the private property rights of Iowans who own agricultural facilities. However, opponents of the law argued that the Iowa statute enacted in 2012 undermined the protections offered to journalists by the First Amendment. 

Pachaud worked undercover at a hog farm in 2011 for the group Mercy for Animals, and sees the ruling as a great victory in the protection of both farm animals and consumers. She says she saw a number of troubling incidents of animal cruelty while undercover, including young piglets being castrated without anesthesia and pigs dying in their cages without medical attention. 

"Often times, we find that the abuse that comes out of farms happen at the larger levels. It tends to be a little more powerful for the purpose of consumer and animal protection if we can show that these issues aren't just happening on smaller farms but are happening all the way up the chain and the tone of these abuses is being set by industry leaders," Pachaud says.

But Kevin Stiles, CEO and Executive Director of the Iowa Poultry Association, says the law is about protecting farmers from individuals who might fabricate false claims to harm a producer's reputation or business. He says the poultry association is disappointed the judge didn't see it that way.  

Stiles says animal abuse isn't widespread or tolerated. "Care of the flocks is always a priority for our Iowa poultry farmers and our egg producers. Animal abuse is never tolerated. We have farms that have animal care codes of conduct. They require employees to sign a policy statement saying that they will report any issues with animal mishandling. Our farms and the livestock community as a whole expect that should any abuse happen it should be reported immediately," says Stiles.

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River