by Joseph Jerome
When an undercover investigation by the Humane Society last week revealed “extreme animal abuse” and deplorable conditions at a massive Pennsylvania egg factory, Iowa lawmakers assuredly breathed a giant sigh of relief. Recently Iowa became the first in the nation to enact an “ag-gag” law designed to prevent and criminalize similar undercover investigations at industrial farms.
The original version of the law introduced last year was draconian in scope, making it a crime to take or even to possess pictures from industrial farms taken without the owner’s consent. In the face of obvious First Amendment concerns that banning pictures of abused farm animals would be unconstitutional, the final law only criminalizes false statements used to obtain employment at these farms or, more ominously, attacks anyone “with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner.”
Despite the recent use of undercover reporting to reveal real problems at Iowa farms, the law’s proponents provided a litany of justifications for the law. Governor Terry Branstad (pictured) insisted that undercover films had become a serious problem and claimed H.F. 589 was necessary to protect farmers.
Annette Sweeney, a member of the Iowa House of Representatives and a key sponsor of the legislation, argued that the law protects family farms from political motivated crime. Though the law’s only provisions detail penalties for “agricultural production facility fraud,” Sweeney actually believes the law encourages individuals to immediately report abusive farming practices. “No person would be stopped from reporting alleged abuse,” she wrote in The Des Moines Register. “Rather, only those who have no respect for Iowa laws would be prevented from endangering animals and people in the creation of propaganda designed to support an extremist agenda.”