Iowa ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill Targets Undercover Whistleblowers

The nation’s first bill of its kind could jail animal and farm worker advocates.

Woman looking through hole in the wall
Who's looking out for the animals? In Iowa, whistleblowers now face jail time. (Photo: Andy Ryan/Getty Images)

Thanks to undercover animal advocates, we’ve been able to see pictures of the horrific conditions that exist in some factory farms – and take action. But if farm lobbyists have their way, that sort of exposure will be a thing of the past. Late last week, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed the nation’s first “Ag-Gag” bill into law, reports Food Safety News. Under the new legislation, food safety, human rights and animal abuse whistleblowers could face up to a year in prison and a fine of $1,500.

The bill makes “agricultural production facility fraud” a serious or aggravated misdemeanor, depending on the number of times the act is committed. That means individuals who obtain a job in an animal facility or crop operation under false pretenses (say, to uncover inhumane practices or poor working conditions) could be looking a jail time and other penalties.

Iowa has the highest concentration of factory farms in the country, with many recent cases of abuse exposed through undercover investigations. In 2009, Mercy for Animals (MFA) whistleblowers discovered that Hy-Line Hatchery was throwing 150,000 live male chicks into grinders daily. Last year, MFA collected video of workers abusing birds at Iowa-based Sparboe Farms. In 2010, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) used undercover workers to look into the wellbeing of egg laying hens at Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc., finding overcrowded cages, infections, broken bones from rough handling and other inhumane practices. In June of 2011, MFA recorded gruesome conditions at pork producer, Iowa Select Farms.

“This law makes it clearer than ever just how much Iowa’s factory farms have to hide,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS told Take Part. “The legislature should be encouraging laws that prevent animal abuse as well as worker, environmental and food safety violations. Instead, they’ve made it easier for abusers to avoid detection within an industry that is already sorely lacking in transparency.”

The bill’s sponsor, Iowa State Senator Joe Seng, defended the legislation on American Public Media, saying that factory farms are private property and therefore cannot be entered without formal knowledge. He also admits, however that “there are always abuses in any industry... the bill that we passed is mainly for protection of industry.”

Constitutional advocates worry that the Iowa bill sets a dangerous president for the future of free speech in our food system, as well as the integrity and safety of agricultural operations. Similar ag-gag bills are still being discussed in Utah, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, New York and Indiana; areas that include some of the nation’s most concentrated factory farming practices.

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