A coalition of public interest groups and journalists led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Center for Food Safety and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in Iowa challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ag-gag law.
The coalition argues Iowa’s ag-gag law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which grant freedom of speech and the right to equal protection under the law. Federal courts have already struck down ag-gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.
Iowa is the country’s largest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs. More than 20 million pigs and 45 million egg-laying hens are raised in Iowa each year, with tens of millions more cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats raised in the state.
The coalition claims that the law prevents whistleblowers from revealing what happens on farms. In the years leading up to the passage of the law in 2012, there were at least ten undercover investigations of farms in Iowa, the coalition said. Since the law’s passage, there has been zero.
A 2012 consumer survey conducted by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Department of Animal Sciences found that the public relies on the information gathered and presented by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined.
“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,” says 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.”