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Iowa’s ‘ag-gag‘ law – which stopped activists and journalists from conducting undercover investigations of facilities including factory farms slaughterhouses – has been struck down by a federal judge.
According to U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner, the 2012 Agricultural Production Facility Fraud law – which was largely supported by agricultural industry, violated the constitutional right to free speech.
Freedom of speech
“To some degree, the concept of constitutional protection for speech that is false may be disquieting,” Gritzner said.
He added, ‘the Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace’, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judgement was called a victory by animal rights campaigners, with Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells saying: “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.”
Illegal and cruel farming
The Animal Legal Defense Fund added: “For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses.
“No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations.
“Iowa is the biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs in the United States, making it critically important that investigations there are not suppressed.”
However, many in the animal agriculture lobby were disappointed by the ruling, saying the law protected farms and ranches from ‘animal rights extremists’.
“This country’s food supply is produced by less than two percent of its population,” said Hannah Thompson-Weeman of the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
“The majority of America’s farmers and ranchers do the right thing every day, and those individuals don’t deserve to be worried about every job applicant being an undercover activist determined to bring down their family farm at all costs. Agriculture is a matter of national security and has been designated as such by the Department of Homeland Security.”