Quandary of ag-gag decision

Quandary of ag-gag decision

WHEN a district court recently struck down Idaho's "ag-gag" law (Feedstuffs, Aug. 10), it left the door open for similar challenges in other states with comparable measures, such as Iowa and Kansas, an agricultural law expert said.

Roger McEowen, director of the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law & Taxation, said Idaho's law criminalized "interference with agricultural production" when a person knowingly enters a production facility without permission, without a court order or without otherwise having the right to do so by statute (in other words, on the premises illegally) and makes a video or audio recording of how the operation is conducted.

The court held that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the free speech rights of those who want to take illegal videos as well as on equal protection grounds because it singled out people who sought to take illegal videos.

McEowen said the judge's logic leaves much to be desired. The law allowed concerned citizens to seek permission or even a warrant to gain access to a farm; it just didn't allow trespassing to get the footage.

"You can boycott out front all you want. You can have a press conference. You can say whatever you want to try to convince the public of your position. You can get a judge to approve of the clandestine video. An employee who was employed not under false pretenses can shoot the video on their cell phone, but you can't obtain the video under illegal means," he said. "How does that impinge free speech?"

McEowen suspects that if this case is appealed, the ninth circuit will affirm. Iowa and Kansas are in the same district. McEowen doesn't think it would stand in the Supreme Court but said he would love to read what Justice Antonin Scalia has to say about it.

The Idaho legislature created the ag-gag law in the aftermath of a video released by Mercy for Animals on dairy animal mistreatment. The group is known for its agenda to end production agriculture as well as encourage a vegan diet.

Even if shown an educational video about the proper way to slaughter an animal, a very high percentage of the general public would be offended due to a lack of understanding of livestock production.

McEowen argued that it is in states' interests — and is not a constitutional violation — to protect agribusinesses and their facilities as they are particularly susceptible to economic ruin from people who seek to do them harm. State legislatures aren't looking to condone animal abuse but to protect a misconstrued agriculture industry that is crucial to state economies.

Volume:87 Issue:32

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