The Iowa legislature has approved the so-called “ag gag bill”.
The bill establishes new penalties for people caught getting a job at a livestock confinement operation or on a farm under false pretenses–in order to go undercover or to disrupt the operation in some way.
On Tuesday the Iowa Senate voted 40-to-10 to charge people caught in those situations with a serious misdemeanor. About five hours later the Iowa House voted 68-to-26 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.
Senator Joe Seng, a Democrat from Davenport who is a veterinarian, says animal rights activists with an agenda to expose conditions inside livestock confinements can expose the animals to disease.
“People are trying to get into these places, saying they’re a plumber or they’re this or that—they’re going to take care of your livestock—with no intention of that whatsoever. They’re trying to bring down this business,” Seng says.
“That is false pretenses. It’s a claim that they’re going to do one thing, but they’re not going to do it. They’re going to do something else.”
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, voted no. McCoy says whistleblowers will be made into criminals, at the expense of public health.
“This is the way to chill the whistleblowers and to bring the cover of darkness over this and to give immunity to big agriculture so they can do whatever they please, however they please—and do it with immunity,” McCoy says.
Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, also voted against the legislation. “Passing this bill will put a big red question mark stamped on every pork chop, every chicken wing, every steak, every egg produced in this state,” Quirmbach says, “because it will raise the question of ‘what have you got to hide?’”
Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat from Robbins, suggests those caught in these kinds of situations inside a livestock confinement can be charged with trespassing on private property.
“Those who have been talking about less government for years should agree there are already laws for protection and this bill is not necessary,” Mathis says.
Last year the Iowa House voted to establish a prison sentence of up to 10 years for people caught going into a livestock confinement to take pictures or video of the animals and those who are caring for the livestock. Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican who raises row crops and cattle on her farm near Alden, urged the House to accept the Senate’s version of the bill, which sets up a much more limited penalty.
“For right now I think it’s a start, to realize that we are serious about protecting the agriculture that we have in this state,” Sweeney says.
Groups like HSUS and PETA have released undercover videos taken from inside livestock confinement operations to illustrate their contention that the animals are being abused. Sweeney says “it remains to be seen” whether this type of law will be a deterrent to that kind of activity.
“But I’m hoping that it sends the signal that if you do commit fraud, it’s illegal,” Sweeney says, “and they do need to be mindful of that.”
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement — a group that opposes large-scale livestock confinements — calls the bill a “sell-out to the corporate factory farm lobby.”
The bill now goes to Governor Branstad, who is expected to sign it into law.
Radio Iowa contributed to this story.