Coalition challenges Iowa 'ag-gag' law

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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A federal court in Brazil has cleared the way for JBS SA to sell its South American beef operations to subsidiaries controlled by Minerva SA.
Public interest groups argue the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.
 
DES MOINES – A coalition of animal welfare advocates, food safety groups and free speech proponents filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Iowa’s ban on undercover investigations at farms and slaughterhouses.

Members of the coalition include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety and Public Justice.

“Iowa’s unconstitutional ag-gag law tries to punish speech without any proof of any injury to the agricultural facility it seeks to protect. There’s a reason that federal courts have been striking these laws down as a violation of the free speech rights of groups like our clients,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director. “Ag-Gag laws seek to carve out restrictions on undercover news-gathering and other forms of speech that are specific to a single industry in violation of the First Amendment.”

The Iowa legislature passed the law in 2012 and then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law. A person could be found guilty of agricultural production facility fraud by obtaining access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses and/or knowingly making a false statement as part of an application or agreement of employment at an agricultural production facility.

A conviction on a first offense is punishable up to a year in jail and a fine. A second or multiple convictions would be treated as felonies, punishable with up to five years imprisonment and a potential fine of up to $7,500.

“Iowa is trampling civil liberties for the benefit of an industry,” Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director, said in a statement. “Each American has a right to know what goes on at factory farms – especially in Iowa, which is the second highest state in agricultural production and the source of nearly a third of the country’s pigs.”

A lawyer representing the Iowa Pork Producers Association said state lawmakers carefully consider the impact of the law. Eldon McAfee said lawmakers followed by the state and US constitutions.

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