Above: Last spring, a Humane Society of the United States investigtor, posing as an employee, got a camera into an egg factory to film conditions there. If Iowa lawmakers have their way, such muckraking will be illegal.
It’s not just Florida. In what appears to be a growing movement, industrial farmers have convinced Iowa state lawmakers to move an anti-whistle-blower bill through the state legislature. This bill, unlike the rather clumsy and probably unconstitutional Florida bill aimed at photographing farms, focuses on undercover attempts to film inside industrial livestock facilities (via ABC News):
Angered by repeated releases of secretly filmed videos claiming to show the mistreatment of farm animals, Iowa’s agriculture industry is pushing legislation that would make it illegal for animal rights activists to produce and distribute such images.
Agriculture committees in the Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill that would prohibit such recordings and punish people who take agriculture jobs only to gain access to animals to record their treatment. Proposed penalties include fines of up to $7,500 and up to five years in prison. Votes by the full House and Senate have not yet been set.
Also unlike the Florida bill, the Iowa legislature has already passed this bill through both House and Senate Agriculture Committees. And legally, there may be fewer constitutional issues with a law that limits workers behavior on the job or statements made on job applications.
At the same time, a law like this could have a chilling effect on undercover work of all kinds. If this law passes and survives judicial scrutiny, you could imagine many different industries scrambling to have similar laws passed to protect them from muckraking reporters or activists. There is, after all, a long tradition of taking jobs in order to write about them.
Iowa’s Big Ag is trying to cover their brazen attempt to stop whistle-blowers by observing that many of the animal rights groups who made these videos in the past didn’t immediately release them or file complaints, but rather held them sometimes for years in order to maximize impact. In fact, the video releases have tended to lead to plant closures or lawsuits. And by going directly to the public, they bypass the industry-dominated regulatory bodies quite effectively — though perhaps in the end too effectively, if Big Ag succeeds in ending the practice.
According to news reports, the likelihood of the bill’s passage is uncertain thanks to Democratic control of the Iowa Senate. But support for agribusiness is relentlessly bipartisan. Keep an eye out. Similar bills may be coming soon to a farm state near you.