Federal judge strikes down Iowa law on undercover ag workers


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down an Iowa law that made it illegal to get a job at a livestock farm to conduct an animal cruelty undercover investigation, finding the law violated the constitutional right to free speech.

U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner sided with opponents of the 2012 law that was intended to stop organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals from doing animal abuse investigations at farms and puppy mills. Iowa lawmakers approved the measure, which threatened up to a year in jail to those who conducted an undercover operation, after several high-profile cases in which animal welfare advocates recorded questionable animal treatment and then publicized the images through the media.

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, called the ruling “an important victory for free speech” and argued the so-called ag-gag law was an example of government using its power to protect those with power. The ACLU joined with animal welfare, food safety and open government advocates in the lawsuit, filed in 2017 in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.

“Ag gag clearly is a violation of Iowans’ First Amendment rights to free speech,” Bettis said in a statement. “It has effectively silenced advocates and ensured that animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions go unreported for years.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which joined in the lawsuit, noted no undercover investigations had taken place in Iowa since the law was approved in 2012.

PGA Tour Golfer Dies a Day After Suddenly Withdrawing from Tournament

“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,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement.

Federal courts have struck down similar laws in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Litigation is ongoing in North Carolina.

A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office, which represented the state, says an appeal is under consideration.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association supported the law and expressed disappointment at the judge’s ruling.

“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,” the organization said in a statement.


Associated Press writer Scott McFetridge contributed to this report.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands. Photo credit: @AP on Twitter
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
New York City