DES MOINES, Iowa -- A 2012 law that banned undercover recording at agricultural production facilities in Iowa has been struck down.
The law, signed by then Governor Terry Branstad, made it illegal for anyone to go undercover as a worker at an agriculture production facility for the purposes of recording the treatment of animals. Activists decried the law, saying it kept them from informing the public about potential inhumane or illegal activities.
A collection of animal activist groups including the ACLU, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, Public Justice and Bailing Out Benji joined together to challenge the law in court.
On Wednesday a federal judge in Des Moines sided with the plaintiffs in the case and ruled the law unconstitutional. The ruling was made by Judge James Gritzner who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
The Animal Legal Defense fund issued this statement after today's hearing:
“Ag-Gag laws are a pernicious attempt by animal exploitation industries to hide some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the United States. Today’s victory makes it clear that the government cannot protect these industries at the expense of our constitutional rights.”
-Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.
The ACLU said the law violated the first amendment by restricting freedom of speech.
“The law was designed to protect the agricultural industry from this sort of undercover exposure, undercover recording or reporting out about activities inside those facilities,” ACLU Attorney Rita Bettis Austen said.
The Founder and Executive Director of Bailing Out Benji, Mindi Callison, said this ruling will help reveal abuse in puppy mills and large factory farms.
“Employees in factory farms or on USDA facilities as it is, if they see something wrong now they are able to speak out and say something. Before, they would have been punished under this "ag gag" law,” Callison said.
The Iowa Pork Producer's Association said in a statement that they are disappointed the court did not agree with the way the law was written.
"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. 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."
-The Iowa Pork Producers Association
Governor Reynolds also released a statement regarding the ruling:
"Governor Reynolds is disappointed in today’s ruling that struck down bipartisan legislation. We are reviewing options with the Iowa Attorney General."
-Pat Garrett, Governor Reynolds Spokesman.
Callison said this ruling is a victory for Bailing Out Benji and other animal rights groups.
“So the biggest thing for these animals that are left in puppy mills and in factory farms is now we can see them, the world will be able to see them and what’s going on,” Callison said