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Iowa Ag Facility Fraud Law Unconstitutional – Now What?

Now that a federal judge ruled Iowa’s 2012 Agricultural Production Facility Fraud law (called the ag-gag law by opponents) unconstitutional on January 9, farmers are wondering what the future holds for this type of legislation. The law was backed by livestock industry groups, and challenged by the ACLU, PETA, and others.

Dal Grooms, communications director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, says they will be meeting with attorney Eldon McAfee and other commodity groups to make a joint decision about the next step. “There have been so many changes since 2012 and how things operate on farms anyway,” she says, “that we may say it’s done and let’s let it be done.”

The fraud law made it a serious misdemeanor, with the potential for one year in jail, for animal rights and anti-agriculture groups and journalists to go undercover on farms, meatpacking plants, and more to investigate animal welfare, safety issues, and other practices. The state argued that the law’s restrictions ensured biosecurity from contagious livestock diseases, as well as protection of private property.

Judge James Gritzner said the statute violates the First Amendment's free-speech protections and was not necessary to protect biosecurity and property harm, as Iowa already has laws that do that.

Similar fraud laws in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming have also been struck down by federal courts. North Carolina has a similar law still in effect.

Pork producers are guided by We Care principles, says Grooms. “We have really worked hard over the past 10 years at training employees and making sure those get implemented on operations.”

Lynn Hicks, communications director for the Office of the Attorney General of Iowa, says “the case isn’t over yet, but the law is ruled unconstitutional." Hicks says the judge has asked for briefs from both parties as far as injunctive relief and attorney fees.

“We are still discussing whether we are planning to appeal. It’s is ultimately our decision, but we will talk to our clients, which includes the governor’s office,” says Hicks. “We ultimately will have to decide based on what our success would be with the appellate court. If you look at some of the other rulings around the country it’s been mixed.”

Hicks says there are other ways to address the biosecurity and safety issues on farms, including beefing up trespassing laws.

There is no record of the law being enforced since it was passed in 2012, says Hicks.

Statement by the Iowa Pork Producers Association:

The ag-fraud law passed in 2012 was meant to provide meaningful protection to farmers from those who would use false pretenses to do harm to the farmers’ reputation and to their farm animals. We’re disappointed that the court did not agree with the way the law was written.

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.

We appreciate that the Iowa Legislature, our Iowa Governor, and the Iowa Attorney General worked in a bipartisan fashion to stand together in efforts to protect pig farmers.

Iowa pig 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.

In that vein, we will evaluate our options moving forward.

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